‘Risky’ way mum made $195k
For years, Sydney woman Natalie Moubarak battled skin problems caused by psoriasis - until she discovered hemp oil.
The mum of two used the oil topically and found it worked wonders, and also knew it was used around the world in drinks to achieve similar health benefits.
She was sure hemp-infused water would be a hit on the Aussie market, but faced one huge hurdle: it was not legal to use hemp in food in this country at the time.
However, the 31-year-old knew there was a growing push to legalise it, and in 2016 she began her own slow business journey.
Certain that legalisation was going to happen sooner or later, Mrs Moubarak started visiting hemp farms across the country and speaking with industry experts and food technologists to discover how to process hemp with water.
She also conducted market research and contacted manufacturers and bottlers, registered a brand name and poured $100,000 of her own savings into the passion project.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) approved a proposal to allow the sale of low THC hemp seed foods last year and in April 2017, Australian government ministers responsible for food regulation considered the prosposal.
At the time, a FSANZ spokesperson told SBS: "Our risk assessment found that low-THC hemp seed foods are safe for consumption and can provide a good alternative source of nutrients and polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially Omega-3 fatty acids."
Ministers found no reason to review the decision and the Food Standards Code was changed to permit the sale of hemp foods from November 12, 2017 onwards.
But for Mrs Moubarak, the battle was just beginning.
The former real estate agent and cafe owner said she still faced a great deal of "stigma and misinformation" about hemp, from both customers and stockists.
That stigma stems from the fact both hemp and marijuana are species of the cannabis family of plants.
However, while marijuana contains high levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp only has negligible traces of it - meaning eating or drinking hemp will not make you high.
In all, Mrs Moubarak's +hemp water was rejected by 13 drink manufacturers, 19 distributors and seven food technologists who "didn't want to take the risk".
Facebook and Instagram also won't allow the brand to advertise on their platforms.
But finally, after a frustrating 18-month process, +hemp got its first big break after being accepted by a major beverage distributor.
The brand officially got off the ground in mid-August - and today, +hemp is Australia's first true hemp water, being sold by more than 200 retailers including select IGA and BP outlets and a range of independent cafes and fitness centres.
She is on track to sell 65,000 bottles by Christmas - and is expecting to have made $195,000 in sales before tax in that time.
That figure is set to soar next year, with several new flavours in the pipeline.
But she said while the company was going from strength to strength, she was still on a mission to "educate" the public further.
"A lot of people are still worried about it, but I reassure them that there's no THC in hemp - your children can drink it," she said.
"You don't get high from it; you can drink it and drive.
"There's still a stigma and some people are so scared to try it - people are too scared to even have a sip. But I tell people to give it a shot, and feel better."
Mrs Moubarak said the business was doing even better than she expected - but acknowledged the drink "wasn't for everyone".
"It just takes time for consumers to taste it and get used to it, just like coconut water when it first arrived," she said.
Mrs Moubarak said hemp oil was high in omega-3, 6 and 9 and vitamin B12 and other nutrients and while it would not cure health conditions, it had anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well as boosting the immune system and cardiovascular health and decreasing cholesterol.