Hemp has long been touted as a super-plant for its health and sustainability credentials, zero wastage, and thousands of potential uses. One such use is in the production of plant milk, something Gaia’s Farming Co. has been doing since the end of 2019; the early-stage biotech is convinced that hemp can lead the way in the rapidly expanding plant-based milk sector.
Working across the microbiology, farming, and processing industries, Gaia’s Farming Co. has created hemp milk alternatives with a range of functionalities and recently announced a partnership with one of the UK’s most popular plant-based restaurant chains, Lewis Hamilton’s Neat Burger.
Founder and CEO Michael Kyriakou gave us Gaia’s story and told us how hemp has unlimited potential spanning vegan ice cream to plant-based butters and snack bars, and beginning with super sustainable milk.
Tell us about Gaia’s Farming Co.
Gaia’s Farming Co. is a biotech start-up utilising Mother Earth’s most sustainable plant, hemp and we launched in January 2022. Hemp, a variety of the Cannabis Sativa plant (not the type you can get high from) is an environmental gladiator (taking 4x more Co2 per acre than trees), but it also possesses significant health benefits (from protein, essential amino acids and omega 3 & 6).
Our first products to market are our barista standard Hemp & Oat M*lk (1L) and our Hemp & Coco Chocolate M*lk (330ml). We wanted to go into the high growth category of milk alternatives and bring hemp to the table. The more hemp we use, the more the planet benefits. It’s a win-win situation as we aim to get to a net zero society.
How did the idea for Gaia’s Farming Co. come about?
I’m a firm believer that nature can provide us with solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems. While researching hemp, I found so many examples of it being used in innovative ways, and I was surprised that it had not already made its way into the mainstream. Then I learnt that growing and processing hemp had been banned for many decades around the world, despite all the arguments for its use, which really spurred me to want to return hemp back to its former glory (hemp was legalised in the UK in 1993).
My original research led me to think about ways to process hemp for biopolymers or pulp to replace plastic and wood, but the feasibility of that was unrealistic at this stage (and very expensive to start). Then I looked at the food and beverage industry and saw an unmatched ability to disrupt this sector with innovative products backed by great and disruptive branding. It was a perfect recipe. So, we got to work.
Why do you use a blend of hemp and oats in your milk?
The combination gives us the best of both worlds. In the UK, 1 in 3 people has adopted a plant-based m*lk diet, with oats currently showing the highest growth in the sector. That’s where hemp comes in. Hemp is superior to oats in terms of health and environmental properties, so using a blend of the two means that our m*lk still has that creamy texture that people are used to but it’s healthier for us and the planet.
There are lots of plant-based milk options available to consumers. What makes hemp better than the other options available?
Simply put, hemp is the superior option on health and environmental grounds.
First of all, it truly is one of the most sustainable plants on Earth. Unlike other plant-based milks such as soy, almond and rice, hemp is an extremely sustainable crop, growing quickly, requiring far less water and growing well without the use of pesticides. It’s actually carbon negative due to its carbon guzzling abilities, converting more CO2 than any forest or commercial crop. So, the more hemp we grow, the greater our carbon sequestration contribution, which is certainly something that our warming planet needs.
With myriad health benefits, hemp is also a healthier plant-based milk alternative. It naturally contains Omega 3 and 6, both vital for human consumption.
Hemp seeds (where our hemp base comes from) are a perfect protein source, with 65% of its makeup being edestin and 35% albumin- a protein the body can naturally digest. Hemp seeds also have all the essential amino acids, including the nine essential ones that your body needs to function. Also containing magnesium and phytosterols and vitamins and minerals like calcium, fibre, iron, and potassium, it really is a super plant.
What are the views of hemp amongst general consumers and what are the myths?
In the mid-1930s, despite the prevalence of hemp in many industries, the invention of nylon and adaptation of fossil fuel derived plastics sparked a mass movement away from all things natural. At the same time, the use of marijuana as a recreational drug increased and soon after, a ban was introduced prohibiting the cultivation of any plant of the Cannabis family. Unfortunately, that stigma spread throughout the globe and is still, to a degree, with us today.
Hemp has been tainted by this global perception of marijuana as a drug, but what most people don’t realise is that although the plants are from the same family, hemp contains less than 0.3% THC (the cannabinoid that is psychoactive) and most definitely cannot get you high. That’s the biggest myth that we’re trying to debunk. When we tell people they are always so surprised and fascinated by hemp’s journey.
Nowadays, many other countries are spearheading the use of hemp and adopting its industrial potential to add to economic development, but the UK still doesn’t take hemp as seriously as we would like. As more businesses innovate and start using hemp, the government will have to open its doors. We want to be at the forefront of this.
What is the vision and ultimate goal for Gaia’s Farming Co.?
We are highly motivated to educate people on the wide range of benefits hemp has for different sectors, from farming right through to consumer goods.
As the world seeks more sustainable products and solutions to climate change, hemp is well-placed to enter the mass market as it is so versatile. We’ve started this mission with our hemp-based m*lks, not only tackling the dairy industry but also changing people’s views towards hemp so that we can continue to make more hemp-based products that will be popular in the future.
Do you have any product innovations in the pipeline for 2022?
Yes, absolutely! We plan to expand our range to bring more brilliant hemp-based products to the market. The great thing with hemp is it has an unlimited amount of options, from vegan ice cream to ‘nut’ butters and snack bars to name a few.
The more hemp we use and produce, the better it is for the environment, and that really is our number one goal! We will be sure to give you guys the scoop on any new product launches. We promise.