There’s been a buzz about the CBD industry ever since the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law, effectively legalizing hemp throughout the United States. Despite numerous regulatory hurdles and a global pandemic that threw restaurant and retail operations into chaos, CBD sales increased by more than 50% from 2019 to 2020, according to data analytics firm BDSA, which projects the industry to reach nearly $7 billion in sales in 2021.
Sean Eubanks is looking to take that buzz to the next level, and he’s doing so with one of the world’s most popular beverages: coffee.
Amid the flood of tinctures and topicals, coffee is a relatively untapped market in the CBD space. None of the giant beverage or coffee corporations have ventured in yet, and the largest CBD companies in North America have generally steered clear of coffee. However, the U.S. retail market for coffee is worth nearly $50 billion, and while projections vary widely for the CBD industry, several analysts expect sales of hemp-derived products in the United States will surpass $20 billion within the next two to four years.
Eubanks saw the opportunity when he launched Renaissance Coffee Co., but he knew that success would require more than just adding CBD to coffee. The two components would need to be blended perfectly together, combining the rich, complex flavor and aroma that coffee drinkers love with the consistency and predictability of the top CBD products.
It took years of research and the development of a proprietary infusion process, but Eubanks believes Renaissance Coffee Co. has done exactly what it set out to do.
“We feel like we’ve changed the game in coffee with efficacy and homogeneity and just making it taste exactly like you want it to taste,” he says.
The Coffee Model
In some ways, coffee is the ideal vehicle to provide CBD to the masses, especially in the caffeine-crazed United States.
It’s estimated that more than 60% of American adults drink coffee every day, and the average American drinks more than 1,000 cups of coffee per year. For people wanting to add CBD to their health-and-wellness regimen, coffee is a more familiar mechanism than, say, a tincture.
“And they love the coffee jolt without the jitters, because the CBD levels it off,” Eubanks says.
Renaissance Coffee Co. sells regular and decaffeinated varieties of its CBD-infused coffee. The products are offered in different levels of CBD potency, from 4 milligrams per serving up to 20 milligrams per serving, and buyers can decide whether they want their coffee ground, in whole beans or in pods compatible with Keurig K-Cup systems.
The Brightfield Group, a market research firm focused on the cannabis and CBD industries, projects beverages to be the fastest growing individual category of CBD products over the next five years, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 51%.
Renaissance sells coffee primarily through two channels: direct-to-consumer though its website (getcbdcoffee.com) and by white-labeling products for coffee shops and cafes.
“If you’re consuming CBD in a coffee shop in Colorado, it’s likely that it’s Renaissance CBD,” Eubanks says. “Our goal is simple: We want to be in every single coffee shop in the country.”
White-labeled products allow the coffee shops to do what they do best and leverage their brand awareness, while Renaissance provides the CBD and expertise derived from years of research and development.
“They can keep their main business focused on sourcing the best coffee, then we come in and complement it with CBD infusion,” Eubanks explains.
Although Renaissance excels at the infusion process, the quality of the final product starts with the primary ingredients, Eubanks says. The company is highly selective of the farms it works with to source CBD, derived from organically grown, broad-spectrum hemp, and ensures the final products are entirely THC-free, so consumers “get all the cannabinoids they need and they can be confident that they’ll never fail a drug test.”
In addition to Renaissance Coffee Co., Eubanks owns two other CBD-focused businesses: Renaissance CBD and Renaissance Consulting, a consulting firm that provides operational support and assists companies with licensing.
Eubanks prefers to keep the exact details of Renaissance’s infusion process a secret, but says the big key is timing, a detail the company invested a great deal of time, energy and money into figuring out.
“We discovered about 40 different ways you shouldn’t do it,” Eubanks jokes. “I think there’s a lot of that as a business owner and an entrepreneur. My confidence comes from the mistakes I’ve made. And now we’ve finally perfected that infusion process, and it allows us to deliver the exact same product every time.”
When Eubanks joined the cannabis industry in 2016, working for a vertically integrated company in Denver, he believed federal legalization would happen within five years. But he quickly came to realize there were larger forces at play, preventing the legalization movement from taking the massive leap forward from individual states to the federal level.
Whether it’s the alcohol industry or Big Pharma or the prison industrial complex, there are massive industries that have significant incentives for keeping cannabis illegal. And they all spend incredible amounts of money on lobbying in Washington, D.C. Simply put, nobody in the cannabis space is going to be able to out-spend the deep-pocketed institutions standing in the way of legalization.
This disheartening realization changed the way Eubanks looked at advocacy. So rather than fighting the unbeatable foe, he embraced the idea that cannabis and CBD can change people’s minds, one consumer at a time.
“From there, as an advocate, I shifted from a vocal public advocate, shaming Big Pharma, the government and the corrupt politicians, to effectively trying to reach each individual consumer,” he says.
Just as Renaissance’s direct-to-consumer sales strategy has worked wonders, Eubanks took a direct-to-consumer approach to advocacy, using the wellness benefits of CBD products to light a path toward greater acceptance of cannabis as a whole. He truly believes when somebody drinks a cup of Renaissance coffee or finds the cannabis or CBD product that helps their ailments, they become an advocate and a supporter of the industry and take a step toward trusting their experience above the misinformation campaigns of prohibitionists.
“But we have a lot of work to do,” he adds. “I think the battle is going to be fought in a whisper: This is CBD, try it. I know you have knee pain. I know that you’re anxious. I know my role in this industry is to carry the torch and then eventually pass it on when it’s time.”
Cannabis, the Unifier
Part of the reason Eubanks is such an advocate for cannabis is the role it’s played in his life.
Eubanks was on anti-depressants for years before quitting cold-turkey in 2008. When he learned about CBD several years later, he found it to be a game-changer for his health and wellness — and wanted to spread the word as far as he could.
“I was able to balance myself out with CBD,” he says. “It changed the way I felt, and it changed the way I recover, athletically. As obnoxious as it sounds, my income has quadrupled since I started using cannabis. I use cannabis at night to sleep. It gives me restful sleep and I’ve lost weight.”
Although Eubanks is the owner of three successful CBD businesses, he comes from a place of humility. He grew up poor in Texas, and over the years, he’s lost millions of dollars in the cannabis industry.
But he always believed he was on the right path because he believed in the power of cannabis.
“I’m very, very proud of what I see in the industry,” he says. “I’ve had a chance to travel around the country and I’ve spent hours chatting with people and hearing their stories and sharing mine. One of the things I’m proud of is that in a country that seems so divided, cannabis is a unifier.”
Now, as Renaissance Coffee Co. is gaining in popularity and the prospects of federal legalization are once again picking up momentum, Eubanks hopes professionals from other industries will join the fray.
“I want to invite people with business acumen into the industry,” he says. “We need you desperately. If there’s anything I can say negative about the industry, it’s a lack of expertise, the lack people from Big Pharma, from manufacturing, from food services. You want to pull some of the biggest and brightest.”
But those newcomers also need to understand that this industry serves the greater good.
“If you’re here for the money, you’re not going to last at all,” he says. “But when you start to meet the people in the industry, and you hear stories, and you realize people have been denied cannabis oil and children have suffered unnecessarily for that, it lets you know you’re part of a bigger purpose.”