Hemp foods in Australia and New Zealand: Legal, on the shelves and set for boom

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

While most producers sell hemp oil, seeds and protein powder, hemp chocolate, cereal and even beer have been launched. ©Getty Images
While most producers sell hemp oil, seeds and protein powder, hemp chocolate, cereal and even beer have been launched. ©Getty Images
A new wave of products containing hemp are starting to filter into Australian and New Zealand markets, after the long-banned product was finally permitted for food and nutritional use.

In the past few weeks, food products containing hemp seed or oil, such as chocolate, brownies, cereal and even beer, have been launched.

Examples include Western Australia's Rocky Ridge Brewing Co., which has collaborated with hemp grower Chris Blake to make a hemp beer, Dr. Weedy's Hemp Ale.

Meanwhile, Melbourne-based The Wild Food Group has launched 'Hemp-nola', a hemp-based cereal blend containing goji berries and diced dates. 

More to come

And according to Jeff Clements, marketing manager of Hemp Foods Australia, consumers will soon see a greater variety of hemp food products on the shelves.

"Hemp is more versatile and delicious than chia seeds or soy. Australia can expect to see hemp cookies, cereals, beer, butter, breads, burgers, dips, spreads and milk,"​ he said.

"Hemp seeds, protein, oil and flowers are highly nutritious sources of plant-based protein and omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids," ​he added.

Paul Benhaim, CEO of Hemp Foods, was one of the driving forces behind the campaign to get the product approved for food and nutritional use.

He told us earlier this year: "We've seen how the chia industry has grown; we believe that the potential for hemp is significantly larger than that due to its versatility (and) easy protein digestibility, containing all the amino acids and of course, the wonderful omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.​” 

Hemp day

The firm currently has an approximately 80% market share of the industry, which is currently valued in the tens of millions of dollars. It sells hemp flour, hulled hemp seeds, hemp protein powder and hemp oil in its online store.

However, the firm now expects the market to grow exponentially, especially as consumers become more educated about hemp's benefits.

Clements said: "You will see hemp foods everywhere, from cafés to high-end restaurants, caterers, chefs' (restaurants), juice and smoothie bars, and your friends' kitchens."

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation gave hemp seeds the tick of approval during April's Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.

Derived from the cannabis sativa​ plant, hemp that is permitted for use in food has an especially low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which eliminates the psychoactive effects present in the drug strain of cannabis.

Industry regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), which recommended that ministers approve the use of hemp, has made it clear that any association between hemp-based products and the drug strain must be avoided.

Hemp product packaging cannot use an image or representation of the plant, and word 'cannabis' cannot be used.

Benhaim also praised hemp's impact on Australian farmers, saying it would create new job opportunities and boost sustainability, while industry trade body Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) was also in favour of the rule change.

Its CEO Carl Gibson told us: "CMA has strongly supported that low-THC hemp be legally designated as a food. The ability to include nutritious hemp-based foods in our diets is a positive step forward for Australians."

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