What happens when a background in food and beverage and a passion for cannabis collide? Well, in Hilary McCain’s case, you combine both and launch a company — which she decided to do with her line of CBD-infused, zero-sugar, all-natural sparkling waters called Sweet Reason.
Sourced from organic Colorado hemp, McCain’s Sweet Reason offers subtle flavors like Strawberry Lavender and Lemon Rhubarb, with each bottle containing 10mg of CBD — enough to give consumers a dose of wellness, but not so much that they can’t treat themselves to a few over the course of a day.
We sat down with Hilary to ask how she made Sweet Reason happen, and where she plans to take the brand from here.
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What were you doing before Sweet Reason that led you to launch this company?
I was at business school, came back to Toronto, and I was looking for something to do in the food industry. My family’s in the food business in Canada, so it was the basis of every dinner table conversation. Before business school, I’d worked at Chobani, and post-business school, I looked for a food business to buy and run full-time. A lot of my mentors from the food industry had started moving into cannabis, and it got me thinking about cannabis beverages; I couldn’t stop talking about it to my friends and family.
Why are you passionate about cannabis and about the beverage side of the business?
Well, I love cannabis, and, I think, as it goes from a black market to a legal market, it’ll have revolutionary effects on society, how we socialize — it’ll challenge a lot of traditional paradigms. To me, the most acceptable way of consuming cannabis will be beverages, since it’s already ingrained in our culture.
But when I studied cannabis beverages across America, there weren’t any brands I’d buy — there was tons of sugar in them — and that’s what piqued my interest. Then I learned about CBD, and that it was non-psychoactive, but had all these health benefits, and for someone like me who has my fair share of day-to-day anxiety, CBD really helped, so I wanted to make it accessible to the masses — which led me to start Sweet Reason.
We launched with a line of sparkling waters, and CBD is just the beginning. It’s the most well-researched cannabinoid, but in five years, there’ll be many more cannabinoids that we’re talking about and that are legal. We’re opening the market from a business perspective, but also from a science perspective.
What makes Sweet Reason different from other CBD-infused drinks?
It’s simple: we’re the best-tasting, healthiest and most effective CBD beverage on the market. That’s the magic intersection: taste and health. When we formulated the product, I wanted to create a beverage that I would personally drink all day, every day.
Were there flavors you tested where you just said, “Nope, not that”?
The first couple of months I was in the lab all the time, tweaking the recipes, trying to create a CBD beverage that tasted good without sugar. People have grown to love no-sugar, no-sweetener sparkling waters, so we wanted something that they already knew and loved.
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What were some of the roadblocks you faced, and how did you meet them?
So many. I started the business in Toronto, and, six months in, cannabis became illegal overnight. It had been in this legal no-man’s land, and when the fine print of the Cannabis Act came out, they didn’t carve out hemp CBD, which they had said they were going to do.
Until a few weeks ago, cannabis beverages were not legal in Canada, but they’re not at all similar to U.S. cannabis beverages — it’s a really regulated government market — so we’re focused on the states. And it’s very hard to find a high-quality CBD supplier that meets the standards of the food industry. But there are so many answers to your question that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Have you found particular challenges or benefits to entering this industry as a woman?
It’s awesome being a woman in this category. A lot of these products are being created for women, just as a lot of consumer products are created for women; women are the health and wellness influencers of the industry. Sweet Reason is women-owned and run, which I think is a huge advantage, as it helps us create products that resonate with consumers. And I’m a naturally positive person, so beverages can be a boys club. But I like to focus on the positive, so I think this helps us stand out.
Do you worry about companies like Coke or Pepsi coming in and wiping out smaller companies like yourself?
No, I’m so excited for Coke and Pepsi to get involved in this space. They’re already watching very carefully, and I think you need major players entering the market to help build the category. This is a huge market with huge healing potential for consumers, so when they enter, it will help build the market and give CBD products even more legitimacy. Also, in beverage, you need to work with major players to get your product out there; I hope someday we’re working with them.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
That it’s all about the people. I think I knew that, but it’s been reinforced to me. You have to hire beverage industry veterans, it’s a tight-knit community, and it’s been imperative to hire the right people to help us scale the business.
And what would you like to pass on to other entrepreneurs getting into the cannabusiness?
It’s always going to be an uphill battle. You’re creating a category, and that comes with so many challenges, so you really have to be prepared. And have the resilience to fight that fight.
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