The news that CBD category leader Trip is to debut a new range of functional drinks without the substance in is a major development, but shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Functional drinks continue to drive overall soft drinks category growth, contributing four times the value of their non-functional counterparts [Circana 12 we 9 September].

The sub-segment has boomed since the pandemic, with shoppers seeking not only guilt-free fizzy drinks but also those with added benefits like prebiotics, vitamins, adaptogens and nootropics, in a bid to boost their physical and mental wellbeing.

And Trip has been at the forefront of this functional revolution. Founded by husband and wife duo Olivia Ferdi and Daniel Khoury in 2019, the brand has arguably done more than any other to bring CBD into the mainstream.

Stocked in 30,000 distribution points, from national grocery to health stores, pub groups and food-to-go outlets, Trip is now the fastest-growing privately owned soft drink in the UK [Circana 4 w/e 27 January 2024, all brands over £500k], and this week topped the Alantra Food & Beverage Fast 50, making it also the fastest growing privately-owned fmcg company in the UK.

The combination of Ferdi and Khoury’s sheer force of personality and Trip’s sleek eye-catching designs have helped transform CBD from an abstract medicinal product into an aspirational lifestyle choice. The pair have introduced millions of consumers to the substance, and reaped considerable rewards from doing so.

How will the CBD category grow? 

However, Trip’s remarkable rise has coincided with regulatory inertia which has – at times – threatened to overshadow even its own meteoric growth.

CBD’s classification as a novel food means every product containing the substance must first meet rigorous safety tests and be authorised for sale by the Food Standards Authority (FSA). But despite having had almost two years to do so, the FSA has failed to approve a single CBD novel foods application, leaving brands stuck in limbo.

To avoid killing the category, the FSA has allowed incumbent CBD brands to sell existing products if they have a novel food application with the FSA linked to them. But innovation has been a no-go, which has meant the rapidly growing Trip has been stuck with the same products and flavours since February 2020.

If that wasn’t problematic enough, the FSA last October changed its guidance, slashing its recommended acceptable daily intake of CBD from 70mg to 10mg – less than a single can of Trip’s drinks.

Chaos initially ensued, with Holland & Barrett announcing it was removing some CBD products – including Trip – from sale in its stores.

Mercifully for Trip, the retailer quickly reversed its decision, and – as the Circana data shows – the brand has suffered no lasting negative impact on sales. But it will have served as a warning to Ferdi and Khoury of the inherent risks of putting all their eggs in the CBD basket, particularly as UK regulation continues to play catch-up.

Framed in the above context, Trip’s new Mindful Blend range of drinks – which contain lion’s mane, magnesium, ashwagandha and L-theanine but no CBD – starts to look like sensible future-proofing for a multimillion-pound brand.

When will FSA move on CBD?

It enables Trip to continue to frame itself as a brand synonymous with wellbeing, innovate to tap into new social media trends (the magnesium and ashwagandha hashtags have a combined 2.9 million views on TikTok), and reduce its exposure to further bumps in the road as the FSA crawls towards authorising CBD products for sale.

Trip’s founders are keen to downplay this narrative. They insist the development of the Mindful Blend range pre-dates the FSA’s revised guidance, and point out they’re launching the products in global markets where their CBD drinks remain with safe-level guidance.

“We are launching this range in national retailers in four different countries and it’s going to be one of the biggest beverage launches in the last few years,” Khoury told The Grocer this week. “We’re super excited and it’s not related to the FSA.”

But longer-term it wouldn’t be a surprise – especially if the FSA continues to drag its heels – to see the brand look to further uncouple itself from CBD and establish itself as a catch-all ‘mindful’ drinks brand, with multiple functional ranges to meet different consumer needs.

Ferdi’s comments about Trip’s NPD hint at as much: “To be able to evolve and cater to whatever needs that customer might have when they’re experiencing a need for a moment of calm is really important to us.”

And if the innovation is a success, more CBD brands may look to follow suit.