“Count your Blessings Daily:” It’s a mantra Willie Nelson and his wife, Annie, try to live by, and an abbreviated form of the musician’s famous saying: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”
But over the years, it’s also evolved into a coded message to denote the cannabidiol (CBD) in their hemp-derived product line, Willie’s Remedy.
Back in 2014, Willie Nelson knew he wanted to pursue his cannabis passion as a business—he just didn’t know what that would look like, says Elizabeth Hogan, co-founder and vice president of brands for GCH Inc., which develops and licenses cannabis lifestyle brands for regulated markets.
Hogan’s conversations with Willie Nelson about starting a cannabis brand began at his kitchen table and moved to his tour bus. There, something caught Hogan’s attention.
“Some things we noticed on the bus were [that] it was obviously smoky, but also steamy. He’s constantly got a cup of coffee or half a cup of coffee going,” Hogan says. “Coffee is very much a part of his ritual. You get on his bus, and he offers his guests a cup of coffee. It’s his companion for enjoying cannabis.”
From there, the idea for the cornerstone of Willie’s Remedy’s offerings was born: coffees and teas infused with CBD oils sourced from Colorado growers and extractors.
After that, Annie Nelson began trying CBD coffee from Colorado-based SteepFuze, Hogan says, and immediately noticed its benefits.
The Nelsons quickly became SteepFuze’s biggest customer, then began creating products with the company before outright acquiring it, Hogan says.
Willie’s Remedy sources full-spectrum hemp extract from a partner extractor to use in the coffee. The hemp oil is added to the roaster along with raw coffee beans. As the beans heat up, they release oil. The two oils combine and then soak into the beans as they cool.
Hogan says they’ve found the hemp oil helps keep the beans fresher—something they didn’t expect. It also mellows out the coffee’s caffeine and acidity.
When the coffee brews, the reintroduced heat distributes the oils evenly throughout the drink, Hogan says. She adds that the coffee doesn’t have any noticeable cannabis taste.
“Part of that is our master coffee infuser, who chooses the extract based on its terpene profiles,” Hogan says, adding that the coffee infuser is legally blind. “He uses his nose when he’s matching our extract to the coffee roast so they complement each other.
The company offers light, medium and dark roasts in ground or whole bean in 8-ounce bags containing 250 mg of hemp oil. The coffees are infused at a ratio of approximately 1 mg of hemp oil per gram of beans.
Willie’s Remedy also offers nine different CBD-infused teas available in bags or as loose-leaf. Each tea bag is biodegradable and contains 12.5 mgs of hemp. The loose-leaf tea contains anywhere from 150-300 mg per tin depending on the size.
While different teas naturally deliver different effects, Hogan says adding the CBD extract helps magnify those effects. For example, the naturally calming chamomile tea gets a boost of relaxation from the CBD, while the CBD offsets the caffeine in the black tea, per the Willie’s Remedy website.
“We’re working on the theory that cannabinoids awaken your endocannabinoid system,” Hogan says. “I think about cannabinoids as amplitude, and terpenes are your direction. … Companion plants help determine the direction of your amplitude.”
CBD Beverage Market
Currently, CBD-infused beverages enjoy about 5% of the total CBD product market share, according to estimates from market research firm Brightfield Group. But this sector is on the fast track to explode. Brightfield estimates in its May 2021 U.S. CBD Report that CBD beverages will be the fastest-growing CBD product type in 2021, with an estimated year-over-year growth of 71%.
Brightfield also estimates this product sector will see a compound annual growth rate of 51% between 2021 and 2026, making it the third largest product category by that time (behind tinctures and capsules).
Since Willie’s Remedy launched its beverages in 2018, it has already begun to see success selling direct-to-consumer online and, perhaps more unexpectedly, in liquor stores.
“We love being on the shelf in the liquor store because it is a part of routine that we think makes sense with this product. Many times are good for a liquor drink, but there are many times when other things could be better,” Hogan says.
Plus, Willie Nelson’s concert tours and connection to some of the world’s top musicians helps spread the word, too.
Hogan says musicians are some of the brand’s top consumers.
She says older women have also adopted the drinks into their wellness routines: “Not for pain management specifically, but overall body well-being,” Hogan says.
Future of the Business
Times were different in 2014, when the Nelsons were just dreaming up the brand. The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill) had just passed, opening up hemp pilot programs for states that wanted to participate.
In those days, companies were more leery of advertising the CBD in their products because the market had just opened up—hence the “Count your Blessings Daily” message written across their products.
While that message remains on Willie’s Remedy’s packaging, the company now openly advertises that its products contain CBD as well. Willie Nelson has also launched a separate cannabis brand since then called Willie’s Reserve.
Hogan says the company began sourcing hemp from Colorado farmers because it was one of the first U.S. states to open up legal hemp cultivation and production.
But as most states in the country have since opened that door, Hogan says the brand is beginning to look into sourcing hemp from other areas in the U.S.
Willie’s Remedy looks for hemp that is grown using organic practices, Hogan says.
“I do think some more collaborations, partnerships, co-production, and opportunities to work with additional hemp growers and production regions is something that is top-of-mind for us,” Hogan says. “Colorado is a major hemp production region, but others are definitely catching up, and there’s a lot more innovation and appetite for making cool stuff.”