Wallingford’s Incredible Edibles opens first CBD market location in Glastonbury – Hartford Business

The past few months have been a roller coaster for George Chatzopoulos.

In January, Chatzopoulos, the owner of several restaurant franchises across Connecticut, started exploring the idea of converting one of his locations for a new business venture.

In February, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent surgery. Later this month — on March 27 — he will celebrate the grand opening of his Glastonbury-based Incredible Edibles store, a new health, organic food and beverage retailer that will feature CBD-infused products.

The Glastonbury store location — formerly home to Chatzopoulos’ The Simple Greek restaurant — will be the first Incredible Edibles location in the country. The franchise will operate under Edible Brands Inc., the parent company of the incredibly successful homegrown franchiser of fresh-cut fruits and snacks, Edible Arrangements.

George Chatzopoulos

The decision to move forward with a new franchise, Chatzopoulos says, was driven by his new-found appreciation for health after his diagnosis.

“I decided I am going to change my life and make my body healthy,” he said. “I needed something different [as a business] and something that can help other people, too.”

The markets for both organic food and CBD-based products are strong, projected to grow 12.2% annually (to $272.1 billion by 2027) and 17% annually (through 2025 to $2.8 billion), respectively, according to Grand View research.

Paul Bundonis, the new brand president for Incredible Edibles, which is headquartered in Wallingford, said he thinks the global pandemic will drive even more people to become health conscious.

“COVID has really put a focus on holistic mindfulness; people want to slow down and eat right,” he said. “They want to place more attention on taking care of themselves.”

CBD without much THC

Edible Arrangements was founded by well-known Connecticut entrepreneur Tariq Farid, who left his CEO post in 2018 to focus on growing Edible Brands, the franchiser’s parent company that includes technology, supply-chain and several other businesses.

Shortly after that, Edible Arrangements named a new CEO and moved its headquarters to Atlanta.

In 2019 Farid announced he was pivoting into the booming CBD (cannabidiol) business, forming the Incredible Edibles brand, which is now based in the former Edible Arrangements office in Wallingford.

Farid is the CEO of Incredible Edibles but Bundonis runs the day-to-day operations.

Bundonis said he thinks Incredible Edibles — which will operate franchise stores separate from Edible Arrangements — can play an important role not only in providing health-centered products, but also in educating people about the connection between food and the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates and balances many processes in the body including immune response.

“The ingredients in our natural plant-based products we use have tremendous properties to support the immune system and can [also] help with inflammation that can cause all kinds of problems with aches and pains,” he said.

The Incredible Edibles product lineup will include a variety of probiotic-rich kombucha teas, baked goods including brownies, cake pops, cookies, powders, tinctures and topicals like creams, balm and even pet products. Bundonis estimates about 20% of the inventory for each Incredible Edibles store — three of which are expected to open in Connecticut this year — will be CBD-infused, a reality that he says creates a need to educate consumers.

That’s because many people mistakenly associate CBD with marijuana, Bundonis explained.

“Both hemp and marijuana are plants, but marijuana has a significant chemical called THC that [causes] a high,” he said. “Hemp has very little THC and the amount that can be used in any CBD or hemp derivatives … is 0.03%, so there’s no euphoric or high aspect.”

CBD, however, has been shown to create some health benefits, including help with anxiety, sleep problems, stress and pain relief.

Paul Bundonis

The goal, Bundonis says, is to create an environment and customer experience where patrons can learn.

“At our kombucha bar, for instance, [customers] can learn about the ingredients, what benefits it’ll have on their health,” Bundonis said. “In a health food store, you can see rows of bottles and supplements and it’s confusing, whereas we’re creating an environment where [customers] can learn the basics of just the benefits.”

Bundonis says the company — which currently works with roughly two dozen vendors for its ingredients and CBD products — holds its supply chain to the highest standards.

“We independently test every product we sell,” he said. And that’s especially true for CBD products, which are not only tested for quality, but for homogenization — or the equal distribution of the CBD in a particular product.

“When CBD-infused cookies are mixed, we want to ensure that one cookie doesn’t get twice as much [CBD] as another,” Bundonis said.

Incredible Edibles has a four-member team that includes a director of product development, food scientist and assistant operations manager.

The enterprise is also developing a nationwide e-commerce site — expected to go live by mid-year — to drive online sales and, like the store-based experience, provide a level of education.

For now, Chatzopoulos is busy hiring and training his Glastonbury employees — he expects to have at least 10 to start — and excited to work with a brand that is committed to the concept of healthy eating.

His three decades in the restaurant business have taught him the value of the customer experience and he expects a wide customer base from young people coping with anxiety, which has exploded during COVID, to senior citizens looking for natural alternatives to manage the pains of aging without the potential side effects.

Chatzopoulos is also making plans to ramp up a delivery service in the coming months and open a second Incredible Edibles location by mid-year in West Hartford. His longer-term strategy is to open double-digit stores largely in New England.

“Our theme is nurture with nature,” Bundonis said, “and our goal is to help people with their journey of health.”

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