The Trip co-founder began taking CBD to ‘take the edge off’. Three years later, her company has 88% of the market and investors want a slice

Olivia Ferdi’s recollection of her anxiety-inducing commute will strike a chord with most Londoners.

“People are jostling and getting very aggressive,” she remembers. “You’re literally queuing to get on the Tube with people huffing and puffing… You get to your desk and your shoulders are hunched, your whole body’s tense”.

So unpleasant was the experience that Ferdi, then working as a lawyer, started taking CBD to “take the edge off”. Today, she’s at the helm of a booming business that holds 88% share of the UK CBD drinks market.

Founded in 2019, Trip quickly drew attention with its pastel-branded CBD oils and drinks. They are now listed in 11,000 stores, including Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barrett, Boots, Ocado, Selfridges and Harrods, as well as hospitality chains such as The Ivy, Brewdog, Leon and Benugo.

In August, the business secured a £10m investment to fuel further growth, having already seen sales rise 500% year on year in the first half of 2022. The company’s aim is to make Trip – and the concept of a CBD drink – truly mainstream.

As Ferdi’s commute illustrates, the motivation behind founding Trip was highly personal. The same is true for her husband and co-founder Daniel Khoury. In 2018, he suffered a football injury and underwent knee surgery just weeks before their wedding. On the advice of his brother, who had heard of athletes using CBD for recovery, Khoury started using it topically and taking it as a supplement.

By the time of their big day, Khoury’s health had improved remarkably. Having been reliant on crutches post-op, he was “dancing all weekend long” and “carrying me on his shoulders”, says Ferdi. “It was bonkers.”

Name: Olivia Ferdi

Age: 32

Employment history: After graduating from Cambridge University, I worked as a lawyer at Allen & Overy and then moved to unicorn-tech company Farfetch. In my last year at Farfetch I discovered CBD was the perfect solution to the daily stress and burnout I felt as a lawyer. Alongside my husband, we decided to leave our careers to launch Trip and help millions of people find calm through CBD.

Career highlight: Seeing Trip on shelf for the first time – a real pinch-me moment!

Best piece of advice received: Life begins when you step out of your comfort zone.

Business idol: Michael Acton Smith, founder of meditation app Calm.

Blown away by Khoury’s miraculous recovery, “we dove into researching CBD,” says Ferdi. “We’d never heard of it, and didn’t have any experience with it.”

She wasn’t alone in her inexperience. At the time, there was also little public knowledge of the ingredient, which is derived from the cannabis plant but non-psychoactive. Ferdi soon realised most products on the market were intimidating for newbies. “Back in 2018, so much of it was in quite a tricky format… a dark brown bottle covered in big green leaves was not something I could pull out at my desk.”

By contrast, Trip’s pastel hues were far more accessible – and served to attract shoppers. “You can’t make health claims about CBD, so it was through the pastel aesthetic that we were able to communicate to people…and bring them into our brand’s world.”

Plus, in contrast to the herbal tinctures that dominated the market at the time, Trip’s drinks offered a single-serve option, which “was something we thought could be really exciting”.

Luckily for Ferdi, retailers agreed. Within a month of Trip’s launch, it had secured a Planet Organic listing and entered talks with Selfridges. It was the vote of confidence Ferdi needed to put her legal career on hold. By this point, Khoury had already left his job in finance.

“We put all our savings into it,” says Ferdi. “We just felt so passionately about how many benefits we’d felt from our own experience with CBD and how much this could be helpful for so many people.”

They soon expanded Trip’s range with a line of CBD oils. Then the pandemic hit, and demand rocketed. Ferdi says DTC sales rose 420% month on month in April 2020. A month later, Trip struck a partnership with Deliveroo to deliver to locked-down shoppers.

A Sainsbury’s listing followed in October. Trip was the first CBD brand to join Sainsbury’s Future Brands incubator programme, and according to Ferdi, the retailer is an “incredible partner”.

The pandemic – and resulting conversations around mental health – fuelled demand for a proposition such as Trip, Ferdi explains. Suddenly people were talking “about their wellbeing in the workplace, or in their family WhatsApp groups”, she says. Drinking Trip can now serve as a “conversation starter” for mental health, she adds.

This word of mouth has been key to Trip’s success. On social media, fans of the brand have posted positive reviews, which has been “a hugely impactful part of our growth”, says Ferdi.

Olivia Ferdi her husband and co-founder dan khoury

Olivia Ferdi with her husband and co-founder Dan Khoury

Meal deals and coffee shops

Looking forward, Ferdi plans to use the brand’s £10m funding to go even more mainstream. Trip is looking to boost its distribution into “all the places you may ever need it”, including your “morning coffee shop, grab-and-go outlet and where you get your meal deal”.

It’s also looking to expand internationally. To do so, it’s planning to build a dedicated team in France, “where we’ve been building some exciting momentum in retail” (a recent LinkedIn post showed Ferdi excitedly announcing a Carrefour listing).

There, the team will sidestep the logistical challenges involved in running the business from the UK, and also adapt to the French market, where “the vocabulary around health is different and the vocabulary around stress is different”.

Here in the UK, Ferdi is equally enthused. She is encouraged by the regulation of the CBD market by the Food Standards Agency, which has published an online directory of CBD products that have taken the first step towards approval.

Despite some teething errors with the original list, it was an important move for the category, says Ferdi. “I’m biased as a lawyer as I love the law and regulation. But the regulation is designed to support food safety and the best quality products for us … it does none of us any good if someone has a bad experience.”

And she isn’t afraid of the competition that comes with CBD’s growing legitimacy. “We are passionate about making sure consumers can find the best quality products on shelf. If we can’t support that, we can’t keep doing the work we’re doing to make Trip accessible and to destigmatise it and bring it mainstream.”