For the past 25 years, Portland, Maine-based roaster Coffee By Design has also been known to customers as CBD, but the recent widespread legalization of marijuana and prevalence of cannabidiol-infused products have caused confusion for customers unfamiliar with the brand.
With five retail locations in addition to its Portland roastery cafe, plus a wholesale account list with about 600 clients, Coffee By Design has actually held a trademark on the CBD coffee name since 2010.
Co-Owner Alan Spear told DCN he was surprised last year when he saw “CBD coffee” marketed on the side of a building — using a different font and clearly advertising a different beverage than anything produced by his company.
“Our staff are saying they’re getting a lot of questions from people asking if we put CBD (extract) in our coffee,” Spear said this week. “It’s becoming really difficult for us because we’ve been branded CBD for a long time.”
Maine is one of 33 states where marijuana products are legal in some form for consumption, and where edible products like chocolates, coffees and teas are often sold infused with cannabidiol extract for its calming, anti-anxiety effects — without the high that comes from THC.
Spear said he and co-owner Mary Allen Lindemann don’t have a problem with other local shops selling coffee clearly marked as having CBD extract, using the phrase “made with CBD,” or, even better, spelling out cannabidiol, he just wants to avoid confusion with customers who think they’re buying CBD-brand coffee, particularly in the New England market.
Since CBD owns a number of trademarks, Spear said it’s not unusual to have to reach out to companies who’ve intentionally or unintentionally committed trademark infringements.
But the increased time and effort spent sorting out the recent confusion has taken energy away from focusing on the other aspects of the growing business. For instance, he and Lindemann have had to create a list of talking points to prepare their 65 employees to better handle questions from customers, especially since the story has gained national media attention.
“We do have a fairly large wholesale business that goes as far as Japan and we have wholesale customers around the country, mostly in New England,” Spear said. “But we also have a fairly large mail order customer base. So, with the mail order customer base there’s probably been more confusion there. And we already went through an entire rebranding that revolved around what people were calling us.”
That rebranding happened in 2017, when the company changed all of its packaging and marketing materials, from coffee cups to bags, from Coffee By Design to its new CBD logo, in a redesign that started two years prior to its introduction. It’s worth noting that hemp-derived CBD sales totaled $190 million, up from $129 million in 2016, according to Hemp Business Journal.
Spear said he’s seen an influx of shops selling cannabidiol-infused over the past six months, which has correlated with confusion among customers, particularly those coming from out of state.
Some of that confusion has been spelled over the past couple weeks. Earlier this month, state regulators in Maine called for the removal of CBD-infused products from store shelves, since cannabidiol is not a federally-approved food additive, which Spear called “a welcome reprieve” for his company, albeit a likely temporary one.
Still, given the time and expense the company has already spent, as well as the company’s long history bearing the CDB name, Spear said he won’t be looking to rebrand anytime soon.
“We own the trademark, so there’s really no reason to rebrand,” Spear said. “All we ask is that people spell out (cannabidiol) and not just write ‘CBD coffee.’”
The cannabis and cannabidiol craze has gained mainstream momentum in the last few years, but Spear said he doesn’t expect the branding confusion to last.
“It’s just going to happen in time,” Spear said. “We serve thousands of people a day that know us as ‘CBD.’ So, we have an advantage here.”
Elise Linscott is a freelance journalist based in Northampton, Massachusetts. She’s been working as a reporter for six years focusing on community journalism and writing for business-to-business publications.