Nature’s Journey are one of the UK’s first CBD Wellness brands to have B Corp ethics built into their core. Their team of experts include: Dr Parveen Bhatarah (PhD. FRSC) as Chief Scientific Advisor, and co-founders D’Arcy Bond and Leighton Atchison-Warne.
Dr Bhatarah is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Chemistry and is a leading voice in the world of cannabinoids, regularly speaking at industry events, contributing to industry bodies as an advisor, and continuing to lead research in the field.
D’Arcy has a background in healthcare business development and sales, bringing a wealth of commercial acumen to the brand, as well as years of experience in the cultivation and processing of CBD. Passionate about ethical sourcing, he works closely with suppliers to ensure the best quality and efficacy of raw ingredients for formulation.
And Leighton combines his many years of experience in wellness marketing and branding with a passionate advocacy for harnessing the powers of the natural world, alongside an understanding of consumer needs, and enthusiasm for creating products that deliver dependable results, while being a joy to use.
Could you share a little more about how Nature’s Journey began – where the team met and why they decided to launch in the CBD space?
Our founding partners have worked in the world of CBD for many years – as growers, cultivators and distributors, and we have built a strong reputation for purity and quality. Amid the hype and misinformation around the use of CBD – both as an ingestible, and as a topical application, and recognising the impact of the pandemic and modern living was having on the health and wellbeing of us all in one way or another, we wanted to develop a range that consumers could trust – not just to deliver reliable results, but also as a source of transparent, honest advice.
Our Co-Founder Leighton forged a career in the beauty and wellness industry, working for some of the most well-respected brands in the ‘natural’ space. With his experience and understanding of the industry, he felt that there was an opportunity for a range that bought together the many benefits of CBD with the power of other plant extracts to create products that genuinely made a difference not only to the health and appearance of the skin – but also to our overall wellbeing. A chance meeting brought Leighton and D’Arcy together, and from that very first moment, they realised that they shared the same vision. And so, Nature’s Journey was born…
You are partnered with Newell Sciences in California and Arizona, how did you source partners for your supply chain?
Leighton: We’re committed to ethical sourcing – always, so we require all prospective suppliers to complete a supplier screening survey. It asks questions about all parts of their business: from ownership structure to their production processes, environmental impact and worker conditions.
Additionally, as a brand that is certified by The Vegan Society and Cruelty Free International, we are required to audit all our suppliers to ensure that the entire process of product manufacturing – from raw ingredients to the finished product, comply with the stringent requirements of both organisations, ensuring that there are no unethical practices, and that no animal ingredients, or animal testing are conducted at any stage of the process.
Why do you believe that harvesting by hand is superior to machine extraction, and how does this affect costs and accessibility?
Dr. Bhatarah: When it comes to quality over quantity – one of our founding principles was to create a brand that consumers can really trust, and rely on, so we rely on hand-picking to ensure that there is a consistent level of quality, and to avoid cross contamination. Our approach to small batch production and hand harvesting can be more labour intensive, and therefore expensive, but we believe the extra effort is worth it to ensure that we produce a product that is of the highest quality.
Why do you prefer ethanol extraction to other processing methods such as CO2?
D’Arcy: We have had experience using both ethanolic and CO2 methods. Both are effective at producing premium CBD ingredients. One of the reasons we choose the ethanolic extraction method primarily is that it’s the only method that can currently handle volumes of biomass at scale. This enables us to produce the highest quality extracts, while still enabling us to create premium products for our customers at great value. Also, in the ingestible market, producers often prefer to use ethanolic extracts, as CO2 can produce ingredients with a bitter taste which is not desirable.
What is your view on the use of irradiation practices in the food industry (which is deemed safe but is only around 30 years old)?
D’Arcy: Very simply – we do not use irradiation practices on any of our products. Although we are aware of it being used in the food industry and deemed safe, it is not something we are interested in exploring. We manage our risks around micro-organisms, viruses, bacteria and insects through strict adherence to our SOPs. During cultivation we have well developed integrated pest managements systems, and our processes and storage practices adhere to cGMP and GDP standards. Equally as important is our rigorous testing regime, which ensures our products are clear of any unwanted contaminants throughout the cultivation and production of our products from seed to self.
Do you have plans to expand into the oral supplement market?
Leighton: Like most brands in the CBD world, the opportunity to launch oral supplements is not possible currently due to the ongoing Novel Foods Licence Regulations that are being developed by the FSA. We are engaged in the process, but for now our focus remains on developing a reliable range of skincare and aromatherapy solutions, and we have some exciting new launches planned for later in the year.
The emerging and dynamic regulatory landscape still contains many ambiguities, could you clarify some of the key criteria for topical and oral products in the OTC market?
Dr. Bhatarah: CBD is a non-controlled cannabinoid present in Cannabis plant extracts. CBD products sold in the UK which are not for medicinal use, are considered to be either a food supplement (oral) or a cosmetic (when applied topically). Selling CBD products processed outside of the UK is legal in the UK, providing they contain no controlled substances such as THC or CBN and are derived from hemp or cold press oils.
For Oral products, CBD oil is legal in the UK provided the manufacturer complies with specific rules. As of 2019, CBD oils as food supplements, food and drink must comply with CBD oil laws which means novel food regulation governed by Food Standards Agency (FSA), while Cosmetics are regulated by the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS).
How does this compare to the OTC ‘medical grade’ and medical prescription cannabis markets?
The legal status of CBD mainly revolves around the question: ‘is it a medicine or a natural food supplement?’ The main difference is that medical drugs are considered unsafe until proven safe, whereas food supplements are considered safe until proven otherwise.
The products made with uncontrolled CBD / exempt CBD are usually derived from fibre-type varieties of Cannabis (Hemp), which is naturally higher in CBD content than drug-type varieties (Marijuana). Although cultivation of hemp is allowed in many countries around the world, this is usually governed by strict regulations.
However, the risks to be assessed about CBD products may not have much to do with the pure compound CBD itself, but more with the unknown composition and quality of the products offered. In particular, we should be looking into the presence of contaminants in concentrated extracts, and into incorrect or even misleading labels for the cannabinoid content of products.
Why are we seeing such a U-turn in the narratives around Cannabis – from causing to curing mental health problems?
Dr. Bhatarah: Cannabis has seen increased research in this sector, which is gathering evidence on therapeutic use on a range of psychiatric disorders. Much of the stigma around the cannabis plant has come from outdated political views and legislation. Prohibition of cannabis during the 1970s came with a huge amount of propaganda around the potential harms of cannabis as part of the ‘War on Drugs’ in the USA, very little of which is proven.
Significantly, this had the effect of restricting availability of cannabis / cannabinoids to carry out important research on the medicinal benefits of the plant. This position has begun to change and there are a large number of new clinical studies commencing to treat a range of indications. We believe that further clinical research will only serve to further enhance the potential of cannabis.
What implications does this have for an evidence-based approach to care more generally?
Dr. Bhatarah: Evidence based data is essential to enable further research and development into therapeutically active molecules for licence submissions, and also to obtain certified claims.
Do you feel that regulations around for example the use of CBD Isolate, are appropriate in terms of efficacy?
Dr. Bhatarah: In terms of efficacy, it’s all about data. It’s always easier to justify the efficacy of CBD isolate when API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) standards are used as inputs to justify related claims of efficacy. It also depends on which sector you are using the isolate. At the top of the requirements, API standards (regulated by the MHRA) ensure absolute efficacy required for medicinal applications.
For food supplements, the requirements under the Novel Foods regulations are stringent and will ensure efficacy of the raw ingredient, in this case CBD, and its safety as a food. For cosmetics, data required for registration with OPSS, including stability ensure the product is suitable for sale to the consumer. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the manufacturer or brand to have efficacy as a guiding principle when deciding who to procure their CBD, or any other ingredients, from.
The Business Of Cannabis
How was the business fundraising process for you?
Dr. Bhatarah: We’re a privately funded business so we’ve not needed to conduct any fundraising. Our intention is that our business will become self-funding over time.
What have been the pros and cons of your B Corp certification journey?
Leighton: Our journey to B Corp certification is only just beginning – we were incredibly proud to be certified B Corp Pending, but now our focus is on delivering on the promises we’ve made. The free Business Impact Assessment (BIA) tool available from B Lab (the not-for-profit behind B Corp) is a great tool for any business – but especially if you’re just starting out. We already had a very clear vision for the kind of business we wanted to be, and the B Corp framework helped us formalise our vision into real, tangible plans.
How has a commitment to the B Corp certification affected your company growth trajectory?
Dr. Bhatarah: When we set out to launch our brand, we were very clear that we wanted to become B Corp certified, and in doing so we agreed to adopt the principle of the ‘triple bottom line’ – that is people, planet and profit. In that order. We recognise that consumers are increasingly voting with their money. They want to know that the brands they use are not only creating safe, effective products – but also, that they are doing some good along the way, so we believe that having B Corp certification will be a key driver in our accelerating our growth plans. Our plans are ambitious, and we’re just at the start of our journey – but the more we grow, the more good we can do.
As a nascent brand, what has brought the most traction and momentum for you?
Dr. Bhatarah: Launching a brand at a time where there is so much uncertainty in the world, and at a time when some social media platforms restrict the advertising of CBD meant that we had to think differently about how we launched the brand. We’ve focused our efforts on building brand awareness, and we’ve approached this in several different ways, such as sampling and partnerships as well as organically growing our social media following. We have a mantra: ‘test and learn’. We’re a small team, and we’re privately owned so we’re able to be agile and responsive where other, larger brands might get caught up in red-tape. Some of the opportunities haven’t worked for us, whilst others have delivered a strong return on our investment – but we take the learnings from everything we do and apply it to the next.
Leighton’s Founding Philosophies
What motivates you?
The older I get, the more I realise that motivation changes at different stages in life – for instance, when I first started out in the working world, it was about earning money, getting recognised for my efforts, and gaining promotions. But, as time has gone by, I’ve become more motivated by the opportunity to make a difference – whether that’s in the work that I do, or in my relationships with friends and family. It’s something that I value greatly.
What has been your biggest lesson, fear, or failure?
My mother used to say ‘don’t be a jack of all trades, and a master of none’ – it’s something I’ve come to realise during my career. It’s about playing to your strengths and surrounding yourself with good people who share your vision and bring a unique set of skills and experience to the table.
If you weren’t working in the wellness industry, what would you be doing?
I’ve worked in the beauty and wellness industry for much of my career, so it’s actually very difficult to imagine doing anything else. But one of my real passions is writing. I’ve always loved it – and as a child I’d often write short stories, so maybe I’d be tucked away in a cosy coastal cottage writing my first novel.
How has what you do changed you as a person?
I’ve changed a lot over the years, but I think in the past few years, I’ve realised the importance of working and living in alignment with your core values – living with authenticity. I’ve also learned to embrace vulnerability and to ask for help when you need it. It’s essential for personal and professional growth.
What is your opinion on plant medicines more generally (cannabis / psilocybin / ayahuasca) as tools for living in alignment?
It’ll come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of the power of plants, and their countless benefits to help boost our health and wellbeing. Personally, I think there’s a role for natural remedies alongside pharmaceuticals – and as research continues into the wellbeing benefits of CBD, and more broadly, cannabinoids, I’m excited to see what the future holds.
What does ‘spirituality’ mean to you?
I’ve never been someone who has thought too much about spirituality. I’ve never been particularly religious – and until recently, I’d have laughed if someone had suggested that I meditate. But, losing my mother a few years ago, and a spell of suffering with poor mental health as a result of a lack of work-life balance, I came to rely on mindfulness and meditation to help me connect with my feelings or to steady myself when I was feeling overwhelmed. At first it felt strange – silly even, but now it’s something that I do without even thinking about it. I think being outside among nature is also something that has the power to ground me, and acts as a reminder that we’re all part of something bigger.