“I still think purity’s going to end up being the ultimate test…in order to get a really pure product you’re going to need to be consistent. Purity is the driver.”

– Barry Atkins

Barry Atkins is the President & COO of Eagle Hemp CBD based in Tampa, Florida. Eagle Hemp has crafted a manufacturing process whose goal is to be rigidly consistent and maintain the highest level of quality and purity available in the marketplace.

Barry has extensive prior business experience in sectors as diverse as tech and tortilla chips, and has brought that expertise into the CBD world. While at first glance there don’t seem to be many industry parallels, Barry discusses the lessons he learned through his startup experiences that he’s brought to bear. Barry’s first rule is that not a single process works the way you expect it to on the first try. But, with a problem-solving spirit, he’s succeeded in producing a full-spectrum oil that’s purified at the sub-micron level, and still smells and tastes great. Also in this episode, Barry weighs in on the regulation and future development of hemp cultivation in America, why he’s a proponent of CO2 extraction, and the market for CBD pet products.

[0:26] Jason and Joel welcome Barry Atkins, President & COO of Eagle Hemp CBD, joining Extraction Insider via Zoom. Barry introduces Eagle Hemp in the landscape of CBD businesses.

[1:50] Barry outlines his origin story, beginning with reading the 2018 Farm Bill and seeing an opportunity to get into the hemp business. He talks about the industry’s development in Florida and the regulatory environments for cultivation and extraction. He discusses the Florida and international markets, and his efforts to build distribution networks throughout the US, UK, and Europe. He touches on how COVID impacted his business development.

[4:13] Business setup: equipment selection, product mix decisions, and team assembly. Barry vetted equipment for scalability, permanence, and industrial strength which resulted in his decision to use Vitalis equipment. He describes Eagle Hemp’s pathway to product differentiation. Barry links his experience with prior startups in high-tech sectors to the process of establishing a functioning business with Eagle Hemp. Hiring a small team of problem solvers and multi-taskers was key to early success.

[9:30] “Not building the plane as we’re flying it, but fixing the wings as we’re going.” Barry acknowledges the learning curve and need for constant process refinement and re-engineering. Many people see the hemp industry as lucrative and attempt to enter the market unsuccessfully. Why are some farmers failing when they’re cultivating?

[11:36] Barry gives insight into Eagle Hemp’s 14-step qualification process for farmers and the importance of due diligence. Many growers falsely claim their hemp to be organic without certification. Is the “juice” of organic certification, documentation, and testing “worth the squeeze?” Barry thinks so.

[14:22] With hindsight, would Barry go back and change anything? Surprisingly, no. A thorough process and solid business plan resulted in “nothin’ but net.”

[15:50] Branding and future potential for private label products. The challenge – and choice – of high-quality product differentiation amidst market saturation. As the CBD market grows and evolves, how will consumer preferences diverge?

[18:00] Hemp biomass sourcing and processing. Where does Barry look to find the quantities needed for Eagle, and how does it get from the grower to him? Barry talks about his self-sufficient mobile grinder.

[21:13] Importance of R&D to Eagle Hemp’s process. A lot of time needs to be invested into testing and optimization to arrive at consistency and repeatability. Scale is important.

[23:22] “In the crystal ball, where is this market going?” Barry thinks that this depends on FDA regulation, and if they’ll allow CBD to be put in food. Overall, regulations are only going one way, and that’s up.

[24:27] Barry outlines his sales and business development process, and the challenges it entails, especially as many market players are vertically integrated. Will the market’s evolution bring more consolidation, or less? How will the Eagle Hemp facility scale in the future?

[27:40] How to get a hold of Barry and connect with him. See links below.

[28:42] “Should we talk about tortilla chips for a second?” Barry touches on his years at the helm of Miguel’s Tortilla Chips, who supplied to Trader Joe’s. What transferability has he found to processing CBD? And, how do you adapt when mountain air makes your chip packages explode?

[31:38] Barry offers advice to businesses that are faced with selling into massive organizations seeking big deals, at big volumes. What did the chip business teach Barry about how to handle adversarial customer relationships?

[34:08] “Technology, chips, CBD…what’s been your favourite?” Where does Barry find joy in the process?

[34:40] Eagle Hemp’s goal is to produce full-spectrum oil as pure as distillate, but that still smells and tastes great. The challenge of achieving this goal at scale is often underestimated – as is the value that it brings. How does Eagle Hemp’s oil look different from other major brands’ under a microscope? Incredibly pure, thanks to their sub-micron filtration process, which involves filtering out particles 0.4% the width of a hair, without extracting chlorophyll.

[38:52] Barry outlines the experimentation process behind arriving at Eagle Hemp’s extraction parameters. How did he get “the recipe dialed in just right?” Countless hours of work.

[39:32] Show and tell. Barry displays two samples: Eagle Hemp’s oil and that of a competitor. After a period of price compression, customers are starting to realize that “not all oil is equal” and purchasing accordingly. According to Barry, purity is going to end up being the ultimate test.

[41:44] What does the industry need - apart from breaking the laws of physics to accelerate solvent recovery? Pinch-points are what drive innovation, especially at Vitalis.

[44:01] Barry reiterates his first rule: not a single process works as anticipated from day one. It goes beyond the “new machine smell;” it’s about the iterative process required to consistently meet the high standards you’ve laid out for yourself.

[46:15] Looking at the cultivation space, does Barry foresee the dominance of large-scale farms, or will production remain in the hands of smaller growers dotted across the USA? Barry discusses the economies of scale, and compliance regulations that he believes will ultimately lead to increased consolidation.

[48:40] “A story we’ve heard unfortunately many times.” Barry describes visiting farms that have grown hundreds of acres of hemp, but reduced it to uselessness due to harvesting and storage practices. At this point in time, for ideal biomass, hand-harvesting is necessary. Jason, Joel, and Barry discuss the logistics of Floridan orange farming.

[51:22] Joel and Jason talk about other Vitalis extractions, and applications in the food, pharma, flavouring, and industrial sectors. Innovation is also about educating the customer. The trio discuss the opportunities and challenges in CO2 extractions.

[52:58] The waste issue. Once the hemp is extracted, what does Barry do with the residual product? Tests show it might be more nutritious than other cow feeds. Happy cows!

[54:43] “I’ve looked at what a lot of people are doing, and we’ve taken a different path.” Innovation requires new players to step up, raise the bar, and others have to follow.

[55:23] Why would Barry never switch to ethanol? He outlines several reasons why he believes CO2 extraction results in a better, more pure product. “If our product has any green in it, we’ve failed.” What if your scotch advertised that it contained 0.5% butane?

[60:31] “Your success is tied to our success.” Barry describes an oil logging incident with a machine and how impressed he was with the Vitalis team’s quick response and the hours and effort invested in successful resolution.

[63:30] Barry highlights Eagle Hemp’s CBD 4 Pets and how dogs make the ultimate test group for CBD efficacy – no placebo effect. The company is also developing an equine product.

[65:32] In summary: horses, dogs, CBD, process, tortilla chips, technology. But ultimately, purity is key.

Reach out to our friendly team here at Vitalis through VitalisET.com or through our Instagram @vitalisextractiontech.

Hosted by Joel Sherlock & Jason Laronde, Vitalis brings you wise, humorous and sometimes shocking conversations with entrepreneurs and extraction industry innovators on 'The Extraction Insiders'.

Connect with Barry Atkins

Connect with Eagle Hemp CBD

Selected Links on Topics Mentioned in this Episode
Vitalis R-series extraction systems

2018 Farm Bill – USDA backgrounder
FDA resources on cannabis regulation
Eagle Hemp’s sub-micron filtration process: microscope images