We chatted with the folks at Holyworld about CBD and some of the challenges of expanding through Europe. HolyWorld SA. is a leading producer of cannabis-derived products in Switzerland and Europe. We are actively involved in helping modernize and innovate in the global cannabis industry.
Founded in January 2018 by dynamic entrepreneurs, Holyworld is now a subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest Cannabis conglomerates, MPXI Corporation. They are in search of excellence and opportunities made possible by an emerging global industry. Consumer experience is at the heart of everything they do to ensure MPXI brands reflect current enthusiasts’ tastes and preferences and future customers.
All of their flowers are certified, 100% Swiss Made, tobacco, and additive-free. Their plants are grown on the shores of Lake Geneva, with facilities located between the lake the Alps.
Good afternoon and welcome to CannaList Conversations. We are here with the folks from Holyworld. If you guys would be kind enough to introduce yourselves, then tell me a bit of when the company started.
I am Harnoor Grewal, Head of Business Strategy, and this is Éleonor Picciotto, Head of Marketing and Strategy.
I work for MPX International who the parent company, and we purchased holy world back in 2019. it’s a wholly swiss brand. It was one of the only pro-certified organic swiss brands. And today remains the only brand that has its entire product line produced in Switzerland. It started as a smokable brand; now it’s doing oils. We’ve set up a lab in Switzerland, as well, that does its extraction. We’ve currently got a retail shop, and essentially, the brand is now building out its retail footprint.
It’s a brand that is quite popular in French Switzerland and France itself. Now, the brand is looking to expand. Switzerland is, in effect, the consumer headquarters of Holyworld and New York for MPX International.
MPX International is a Canadian company, correct?
The Canadian company works on both the medical lines and the consumer lines. MPX has operations in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Malta, Switzerland, and the UK.
When they acquired you, were they looking to purchase a product line? A brand? what was the intent behind the acquisition?
When MPX purchased Holyworld, it was to acquire the brand equity itself. There was a lot of power to that. We recognized that the future of the industry, particularly here, is branding. The commodities prices, hemp flour, they’ve just plummeted. We harvested something like 90 tons of high CBD cannabis in 2019, and it was at that point we were selling this stuff at x amount. The reason I say this, x and y, is because the price is quite volatile. Nowadays you’re buying a kilo of flour at about maybe 400 a kilo whereas two years ago you were buying this at about perhaps a thousand or so. This is an outdoor grown organic flower but a thousand a kilo or so.
It’s the same with extraction. You have crude oils and distillation of distillate oils, CBD distillates, and the pricing and isolates. We’ve seen it come entirely down. Three years ago in the US. I think isolate was going for a couple of thousand kilos, and nowadays, it’s going for about 500 a kilo.
So we genuinely believed in and still believe in the value and the power in brand equity and the IP of a brand itself that is firmly established and can be scalable. So that was a big part of the purchase logic and rationale, and the other part was Holyworld had its proprietary genetics. Because it’s in Switzerland, you can grow hemp with up to one percent THC rather than the rest of Europe, where it’s 0.2, or America, where it’s 0.3.
What that allows us to do is a crossbreed. We have our breeders on-site, which we’re crossbreeding actual cannabis plants with high industrial CBD, semi-low THC – i.e., below one percent. The resulting plant had a lot more depth, and it’s another profile, and that was because we were able to grow up to one percent THC naturally.
When you’re growing plants and genetics that are only 0.2 THC, there’s a lot more limitation in the presence of other cannabinoids, and we do believe in the benefits of the entourage effect.
As an industry, we don’t know much about many of the other cannabinoids, and we’re only starting up the new trends like CBG and CBN taking effect these days and coming on to the market. We believe that there will be more of that, so we saw value in having the ability to grow one percent proprietary genetics in Switzerland.
Holyworld has differentiated from what we see from the big players in Europe. Many players tend to pursue the medicinal route. Why did you go down a different path than trying to follow something medicinal?
The great thing about a business such as MPX International. There are two routes into Europe; we have the consumer headquarters, Holyworld, focusing on CBD. We are setting up this brand and this brand equity. Then we’ve got our medicinal route – the Maltese facility is pursuing EU GMP Certification. We’re expecting the license in September this year. That’s the EU GMP license. We have a cultivation facility that we’re building out in the Stellenbosch region in South Africa, which will be greenhouse full THC medical cannabis shipped to our Maltese facility for repacking and processing, and distribution. That will essentially be our medicinal facility in Europe.
How do you deal with what’s going on in the market where we see a flood of products without regulation, labeling, and compliance? We don’t know what they are; we don’t know what they contain. How do you respond to that?
The attraction of Holyworld was this vertical integration – the genetics are ours, we grow it with local farmers here in Switzerland. Everything’s grown within 500 kilometers by our own teams. It’s processed in-house in the lab just behind me over there. Seed to shelf – it’s in our hands. We have full traceability, and we’re able to provide this full traceability to customers. We pride ourselves on this capability. There’s not a lot of people that do this. Still, a few other companies do this, particularly in America with various tracking systems that can show customers who pick up a bottle of oil from the shelf. You can say this olive oil was grown in, you know, in the field in Sicily just down the road here. That is one thing that we find really important to show people the transparency of the process. We advocate for self-regulation. And the other aspect of this is testing.
We test in-house. We also have third-party tests, and a lot of serious companies are beginning to do this. We are doing this and have been doing this since the inception. We are testing ourselves plus obtaining independent third-party validation.
Then finally, the regulations that have been emerging in Europe are actually quite welcome. It’s pushing many parties that are just trying to make a quick buck out of the market. Particularly with the novel food requirements, we have an application in with a consortium, and that’s been accepted by the FSA and by the European Medical Authority. So for us, that’s a very welcome and great step. It set us apart from people as an industry; It really can show who is capable and genuine. A company that is interested in furthering the overall industry into a place where we can, you know, come out of the shadows to a place of transparency and regulation, and consistency in products.
What does your product line include?
Our current product line is twofold. There are the products we have for the EU market and the products we have for Switzerland, and the difference comes from obviously the THC regulation, wherein Switzerland is one percent. In Switzerland, we sell smokeable flour CBD flour, which is up to one percent THC. We have pre-rolled CBD joints. We also have our oils which are CBD distillate oils. All up to the one percent mark, and in addition to that, we’ve just rolled out a new line which is CBD cigarettes, so that’s no tobacco. It’s purely CBD; however, it comes in essentially a cigarette pack, and they’re pre-rolled all biodegradable. These are all our swiss products. as you can see, there’s a solid mix between the smokables and the kind of oils and derivatives. Our derivatives are expanding in Switzerland to keep up with market trends.
We’re looking at having some cosmetic lines out internally and few other lines that Éleonor will discuss later. Also, we are currently doing oils. Our main focus in the EU is oils, and we offer those as a consumer product on a b2c basis. We have our own brand, but we also offer a white label on a b2b basis which companies have used our oils as tinctures that they sell over the counter, in derivative products like candles, gummies, creams, drinks, and various other derivative products that they are currently formulating.
Are these derivative products typically around wellness?
Yes, exactly; they’re typically aimed around the wellness category. They’re typically aimed around the kind of oil side that treats without obviously claiming they treat.
Right, we’re not making any claims
people use these products to assist with the lack of sleep, anxiety, and pain. Sometimes for muscle soreness or sometimes just for joint pain. There are various uses, and that is one of the largest drivers. We’re finding some people are also using it for many things; we’ve had reports of people using it as a hangover thing in the morning – you know, been hungover, have some. CBD makes you calm down a little; it feels all right.
A new and up-and-coming part of this includes it in intimacy products and people’s kind of sexual lives, which is really growing, and you see that in the USA specifically. but that trend seems to be coming over here with just a handful of companies leveraging that
What are the benefits of CBD in an intimate product?
It has become a pretty big phenomenon in the states that people and especially women, after the “me too” movement and not get into the specifics of who the feminists are and what they talk about. When it comes to sexual relationships, menstrual pain, and endometriosis, causing a lot of pain to many women, they haven’t been talking openly about it because they were ashamed that it was a sensitive topic that no one wanted to.
Combined with the fact that people are really changing their life hygiene, especially when COVID hit, and people were stuck at home, they realized that they wanted to shift towards alternative solutions. Something natural, something organic – rather than just popping pills.
When it comes down to menstrual pain or sexual pain, when you apply something directly on intimate parts, users want something organic and natural – not coming from pharmaceutical derivatives, from anything synthetic. That’s why people are using it for that number one reason.
The second reason is that if a balm is used in a specific area to reduce pain – if you put it in a local place to reduce pain – why not use it in um intimacy products? a lot of surveys and we’ve done some at our store the Holyworld store in Geneva. Not claiming medically that it has been proven effective, but the truth is that many people have used CBD lubricants, and they claim that it enhances orgasm.
We’ve had people queueing at the store to buy some because it’s new. We really see the shifting in terms of mentality where when CBD arrived, at least in Europe.
People just assumed that it was the legal way of smoking a joint. But now we realize that people are using oil more than CBD flowers and smokable products. Our biggest clientele is women aged between 45 and 60, and they’re using CBD in their tea to reduce arthritis pain, reduce psoriasis or acne on the skin. It could also be an athlete who uses it to reduce soreness. We’ve come to realize that there are a lot of needs that can be addressed with CBD.
People are more inclined to want to learn about alternative possibilities for their conditions or pain needs. Another big area is stress, anxiety, and sleep. Many people are more anxious and more stressed out because of the current situation, and instead of again popping pills every day, they might as well drink a CBD infusion herbal tea than getting a valium.
Clearly, if you take CBD to get a buzz, you’re probably taking the wrong product. There are other things out there that will help you much better, and I’m not suggesting what they are. I’m just suggesting that CBD is not the one to get the good buzz on.
But what we’ve seen in the wellness area, many areas are yet to be explored, and there’s a lot of areas where we initially see some benefit from these types of products. Obviously, we want to continue down the path to substantiate this with evidence-based trials. That will come in a couple of years as people begin to use more and more of these products for wellness products. Where can people go on your website or your store where when they want to learn more? This is an interesting topic, but clearly, there’s not much information out there about CBD and intimacy, for example. Where do they find out this type of information in general?
Look at some of the medical journals which are always releasing exciting articles about CBD and the studies that have been done. There are many studies available online. The issue is we need to have more studies done that span 10 years, and it’s all-encompassing. Unfortunately, we don’t have that yet, but obviously, the industry will continue moving in that direction.
But when we do have that, I think it’ll shed a lot of light on things. I think it’s important to have such a great resource to promote the actual cannabis system and get some insight into it. To see if this is something for you, and maybe it’s something you should try. it’s a great way to get some insight, and once people are comfortable, then, by all means, go to one of our websites
- www.holyworld.ch – website
- www.holyweed.ch – Swiss e-Commerce website
- www.cbdetc.com – EU e-Commerce site
we have books. We have journals from other brands that we work with and solid information there and from us, and a lot of links to some of these journals I’m talking about and some of these other articles I’m talking about that can help you find something interesting and expand your mind some more and click through and read into it. There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there right now that can really shape opinions for people who wanted to use this, And if I can add something about www.cbdetc.com, the whole point of this platform is, as you pointed out earlier, there is a lack of information.
It’s hard to figure out what to buy, where to buy it. Why the prices are so different. The point with www.cbdetc.com is to gather brand that we carefully create, and we have each project tried by ambassadors and testers and people in the team and even the press. Obviously, the website is fairly new because it’s a baby website. We launched it about two months ago. We’re just beginning to develop the reputation of the website and the content that to bring visibility to brands and the industry as a whole. We have people participating and giving their own feedback. We don’t want to pay them to get just a positive review on our website. The idea is that we have to grow together.
The problem with an industry like the CBD industry is growing really fast, and brands are popping in every day, but only the best one will remain, but that will take a few months or a few years to sort out. Suppose we can already start cleaning up, not the bad ones. It’s not that we’re not pointing your finger; it’s just that if you want to get into an industry, no matter what industry it is, you need to master the basics and create the foundation of that industry.
One of the reasons why we have put a lot of time in creating cv etc. is that we’re bringing life to a lot of brands in the industry who have specialized in a product or a necessity to a specific audience. we were talking about the intimacy a few minutes ago, which is addressed by an American brand, is specialized in lubricant and daily oil and suppositories for menstrual pain. We have a variety of brands, and we’ve selected them because they’re the best at what they do in that specific CBD area.
And maybe quickly, to clarify, I don’t know if we really explained this earlier, but so Holyweed itself is our first CBD brand, and CBDetc was our European marketplace where we feature multiple brands. We’ve got various brands from the states and from around the UK from other parts of Europe such as Switzerland on this website that is available across the eu on various mediums.
If you’re familiar with this market, there are basically two approaches – there’s a medicinal side which is a different way of growing and some more control, and then there are the consumer products, and we’ve equated this to more to the craft beer market – where people want to know where it’s grown. They want to know it’s organic. They want to know you know those types of things, and I know that you mentioned that you know you do outdoor grows that are organic. Why is that important, and why was that something that you focused on initially?
That was the kind of ethos we wanted, which was very natural, very sustainable, very organic – essentially a very swiss brand, to put it plainly. Switzerland and Swiss quality are associated with good quality, so that was another again a USP (unique selling position) and growing outdoors – I mean in Switzerland were in terms of pollution, in terms of this and that – it’s very clean. 10 minutes out of the city, you’re already in the wilderness and the mountains immediately.
When you come to our facility, which is ten minutes out of Geneva, you drive about five minutes, and you’re in the mountains. It’s a great place to grow a clean product in good quality soil not too far from the facility and yet still have a very, very high-quality yield coming out of it.
There’s also a sort of earth-friendly approach to growing outside; we’re not burning up electricity with lights all that. We’re not making this massive impact on the land here and again, sticking to the brand’s ethos, sustainability, and just being natural and organic.
The other thing is obvious when we’re growing outdoors. A big part of that is soil testing and making sure everything is good to go before growing. That’s why it’s so important to get this pro certification in Switzerland is quite a big deal because they come and test the soil with you. They come and look at the product that is growing in some cases.
Hemp is like a sponge. Anything that’s in the soil gets sucked right up into there. Hence why soil tests are so important. We need to ensure no heavy metals, no-nonsense in the soil before we start planting. The pro cert inspectors sometimes do what they do because they plant pumpkins in the field and test the pumpkins because pumpkins are like a sponge. All of the whatever it is – heavy metals, contaminants, whatever it may be, any inequalities in the soil – can be tested for by analyzing the pumpkins.
Holyworld is looking to expand beyond the Swiss market; what can we expect in the coming year or so?
It’s been a busy year for us. We’ve just launched CBD within the last two months, which was a big step that really allowed us to service our European customers more – that’s currently Switzerland. I mean, it’s been a blast so far. It’s been moving at a much faster pace than we expected, so we’re thinking of moving into the actual, you know, eu market and having fulfillment from there.
The other reason for that is we’re opening three new shops this year with locations in Zurich, Paris, and London. These shops will be Holyweed shops. It’ll allow us to grow both brands together and bring our values and brand sustainability to other markets where we believe that that’s needed in some cases. London is a very developed CBD market, but you go to Paris, and it’s just started. France has really just opened up since the novel food EU high court ruling late last year. France is starting to pick up, so these are places where we want to spread our values and shape the industry with partners and other people working in it.
How did COVID impact your retail rollout?
In terms of our retail stores, we opened our doors in February last year in Geneva, which was unfortunate timing as you can imagine. Just before COVID, but we had e-commerce simultaneously, and the brand equity was there. We continuously demonstrated month-on-month growth throughout the pandemic and continue to do so now. We’re very proud of that and very proud of the team for putting that together.
That being said, we had initially planned to look at stores late last year, but obviously, with COVID and things going very back and forth, it was a bit uncertain. So we pushed that now into this year. We’re looking at fall and winter openings. That clumped our openings together, but at the same time, at least we’ve got a season between them, and that allows us to catch our breath before we continue to expand.
And if folks want to learn more?
On our websites, there’s a wealth of knowledge. There are soon-to-be ambassadors on there taking consultancy calls.
One of the problems that we talked about it’s really complicated to communicate openly about CBD because you can’t really use keywords like cannabis hemp joints – all this kind of stuff – otherwise, you risk being banned on social channels.
On Instagram, we’re actually having a lot of fun, especially with CBD, etc. account in posting things about wellness and more responding to people’s needs rather than only talking about CBD products. by responding to the need, we’re offering a CBD solution, so that’s one way to work things around. That being said, if anyone’s got any questions or any concerns or anything – we’re pretty responsive. Shoot an Instagram dm, and we can answer that within a couple of hours.
We appreciate your spending the time with us this afternoon. We look forward to the expansion and seeing you Holyweed take over Europe. Thanks for joining Cannabis Conversations.