These Gen Z men want to get hemp into the hands of as many Australians as possible.
Nathan McNiece, 23, and Tim Crow, 24, conducted their own research into more sustainable food products.
They realised that hemp seeds were high in protein, prompting them to map out a business plan for a food business, and then they waited for legislative change.
That day came in November, when new laws allowing hemp to be grown as food were introduced, and the pair was able to give the nod to northern Tasmanian farmers they had already lined up to start planting the first food-grade crops.
Hemp grown for food doesn’t contain the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC. Only low THC varieties of hemp seeds can be legally used for food. The new legislation also includes regulations relating to labelling and advertising of hemp food products.
While hemp has been grown legally in Tasmania since the 1990s, until now, a ban on human consumption has stifled the industry’s growth.
The pair, who began talks with Tasmanian farmers about their hemp crop plans in 2015, admit their respective families were sceptical about the business to begin with, but have since come on board.
“Hemp is truly one of the most nutritionally abundant food sources on the planet. Health virtues aside, the hemp plant also represents a new and viable industry for Australian farmers. It's true iron man food,” McNiece says.
A growing market
Their business, Fair Foods, is based in Brisbane. They predict sales will double annually over the next five years.
The hemp food market is worth $742 million in the US and Canada alone, but hemp for consumption is new in Australia, making it difficult to ascertain what the market size will be here.
McNiece and Crow are motivated by the opportunity to drive change within the food system, saying hemp is a high-quality source of protein.
They also hope to capitalise on the growing number of protein-hungry vegans joining the meat-free revolution sweeping Australia.
McNiece studied law but dropped out before finishing, while Crow studied business and engineering.
Both have quit their respective jobs to focus on the growth of Fair Foods.
The pair have bootstrapped the business so far, pouring $100,000 into branding, website development and crops.
Both live at home with their respective parents.
They claim to be the only true paddock-to-pantry producer of hemp in Tasmania and see the opportunity to scale quickly.
The product is sold in a 240g pouch for $20 on their website, with a 420g pouch on the way.
The Fair Foods crop covers 10 hectares, which bears more than 10 tonnes of seeds to be processed and packaged in their Sunshine Coast factory.
The product will be in the hands of distributors in the coming weeks, with a stockpile of seeds ready to be packaged and distributed around the country.
Export markets are also being explored.
McNiece admits misconceptions around hemp will be one of the major challenges to growing their business. “Consumers need educating on the virtues of hemp as a source of food,” he says.
Industry heavyweight Hemp Foods Australia is also set to take advantage of the new legislation with its first commercial harvest in Victoria.
The brand has sold its products in select stores for years, carrying product disclosures around being for external use only.
Market newcomer 13 Seeds in southern Tasmania is also selling hemp seeds among other products.
- This story first appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald.