Any discussion of Colorado’s candy-making heritage would be incomplete without a mention of Enstrom Candies.
Founded nearly a century ago in Grand Junction, the family-owned company has been making its signature Almond Toffee for more than 60 years. Alongside toffee, Enstrom Candies also produces chocolates, caramels, barks, and other confectionery products.
As an early proponent of cannabis, and specifically, hemp, Enstrom’s home state of Colorado offers a golden opportunity for both traditional food manufacturers and infused product startups. In a separate undertaking, members of the Enstrom family have launched Vita Hemp, a line of gummies infused with superfood ingredients and cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid that won’t get consumers “high” but offers potential physical and mental health benefits.
Candy Industry recently spoke to Jim Simons, co-owner of Enstrom Candies and fourth-generation member of the Enstrom family, about working with CBD, how his family’s confectionery experience supported Vita Hemp’s launch, and future possibilities for the brand.
CI: What made you interested in developing CBD products?
JS: CBD has helped many friends and family members with severe health problems in the past, so I personally know it to be an effective ingredient when it comes to health foods. Also, Grand Junction, Colorado, where our company is located, happens to be a great place to grow the hemp plant due to our soil.
CI: Why choose the gummy format over other confectionery applications (such as toffee)?
JS: CBD burns at higher temperatures, so a lot of confections are ruled out due to the higher cooking temperatures. Gummies are also known as one of the best ways to get people to enjoy their vitamins and nutrients. We also have the ability to make chocolates, but gummies are always what people ask for.
CI: When did you launch the Vita Hemp brand?
JS: VitaHemp was launched by my uncle’s company, Midwest Marketing LLC, in August 2021. Our company was the manufacturer of all these amazing products. I personally started selling the new bottles into bigger chains in January 2022.
CI: How has your experience in traditional confectionery helped launch Vita Hemp?
JS: One of the biggest ways our experience has helped us is the relationships in the industry that we’ve gained over the 93 years my family has been making candy. Without these relationships, we wouldn’t have been able to source a state-of-the-art starchless mogul that we use to make these amazing gummies. We also wouldn’t have been able to bounce some of our questions off leaders of the industry to find out some of the best practices and the best ingredient suppliers. We also wouldn’t make the leap without our family having expertise making quality candy for those 93 years.
CI: Are there challenges you faced in developing Vita Hemp products that you don’t or didn’t face in traditional confectionery manufacturing and development?
JS: The nutraceutical industry is a whole different animal. Using these dietary supplements require a lot more diligence and more extreme good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to stay compliant. We’ve been an SQF Certified company for almost 10 years now, but the 21 CFR 111 Certification by NSF goes above and beyond those requirements. It has been amazing to watch my team meet these requirements over the past year.
CI: Does Vita Hemp have its own manufacturing facility? Or do you have a manufacturing partner?
JS: Our company, Hybrid Confections, LLC, (same ownership as Enstrom) is the manufacturer of all the gummies for VitaHemp. We are only a white-label company, so this brand is actually owned by my uncle, Bill Enstrom. We’re helping him launch the brand.
CI: Do you have any advice for traditional CPG manufacturers looking to get into the CBD space?
JS: Watch out for the red tape! There are a lot of changing parts in the industry. It seems like there is a new type of cannabinoid every month and another regulation following it weeks later. It’s a lot of noise you must cancel out in order to make it in the industry. Our VitaHemp brand is more than just CBD; it’s superfood ingredients that help different functions that come from CBD. We are only using full-spectrum CBD oil because it is a purer form of the hemp plant with little excess manipulation of the oil. Not only is it more functional in this form, but there is less red tape when using purer forms of the plant.
CI: Are Vita Hemp products available at in-store retail locations? Are there plans to enter in-store retail or expand the brand’s retail presence?
JS: We have the bottles and bags available on our website for direct-to-consumer sales. We are currently working on getting the brand into some national retail chains. We hope to soon have the product in convenience chains across the nation.
CI: Has the federal attitude toward CBD-infused food products impacted retailer uptake? If so, how?
JS: Of course! Most grocery and big box stores are waiting for the green light from the FDA to put any of these in their stores. Currently, there is big gray area when it comes to CBD in food. Lots of stores in the US are selling them, but not most of the larger grocery/big box stores.
CI: Can you describe the effect-based approach to Vita Hemp’s gummies? Why include superfoods?
JS: The Wild Superfood ingredients have all the functionality with or without the CBD. We make the gummies with and without. When we add CBD, we only need half of the Wild Superfood ingredients because of the efficacy of the CBD. Each gummy has a different effect that is based on a reason someone takes CBD. Sleep, anti-inflammatory/joint pain, anti-anxiety, focus, immune booster, etc. We take those widely known effects of CBD and enhance them with matching Wild Superfood ingredients to enhance the efficacy of the gummy. It also allows us to make the claims on the bottle because the FDA recognizes these superfoods in those claims.
CI: Are there any other Vita Hemp products coming down the pike?
JS: There are hundreds of things I’d love to come out with: Hair Skin & Nails, Collagen, Energy, Detox, Weight-Loss, Digestive Health, Vision, etc. With the Wild Superfoods from our amazing partner, North American Herb and Spice, we are the sole company that can use their amazing wild ingredients to make all of the formulas work.