What’s Wrong with This Picture?

As part of its ongoing investigations into Amazon and other online vendors’ vetting practices, TTC  has independently tested products and contacted the companies found to not meet label claims Here, an update on testing efforts by TTC, as well as the latest testing on SAMe and CoQ10 by NOW. 

NOW recently made headlines by providing brand names of CoQ10 and SAM-e manufacturers that were found to be deficient in meeting label claims. A number of trade publications reported the story and iherb.com posted it on its website. Trust Transparency Center (TTC) has itself conducted tests on products containing coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), astaxanthin, curcumin, and lutein, and TTC’s findings are similar to the NOW testing results. As part of our ongoing investigations into Amazon and other online vendors’ vetting practices, TTC has independently tested products, contacted the companies found to not meet label claims and informed them of our findings. The responses from the identified companies were typically one of these four:

  1. Fix the product problem
  2. Ignore repeated communications
  3. Discontinue the product
  4. Threaten litigation if we made the information public

TTC tested some of the same brands as NOW, suggesting repeat offenders and very poor gatekeeping on behalf of the presumed online “gatekeepers.” It is interesting also to note that TTC did in fact receive a litigation threat from some of these same companies NOW identified, suggesting intimidation was their strategy rather than contrition and compliance. In some cases, the products identified by NOW have been discontinued entirely, a positive development, but in other cases, the companies named by NOW have discontinued offering the products on Amazon but are continuing to provide other products found to be failing assay.

As can be seen from the published lists below, several companies failed for both CoQ10 and for SAM-e. In some cases, Amazon has discontinued the offering of the NOW named products, but the brand name products are still carried on the brand website. There is a current class action filed late last year in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Civil Action No.: 1:19-cv-22702-KMW) against several of these companies:

  • Vitamins Because LLC
  • CT Health Solutions LLC
  • We Like Vitamins LLC
  • GMax Central LLC
  • ASquared Brands, LLC

How these companies operate (the ones listed above, and in fact, all of those found to be deficient by both TTC and NOW) and how they participate in the online channel (e-tailers and their own websites) moving forward bears watching. It has certainly been disappointing to observe a lack of engagement and accountability on the part of the e-tailing community thus far. Responsible actors in our community have spoken of the product promise in dietary supplements, where a product contains efficacious amounts AND has in the bottle what is claimed on the bottle. We conveniently call these non-compliant companies “outliers,” yet many of these online brands are becoming quite prolific and larger players. We at TTC will continue to test and pressure this marketplace. We hope at some point to find willing partners in the e-tailing community to help us ensure a better industry.

The current environment, unfortunately, supports inconsistency, poor gatekeeping, non-existent or erratic barriers to entry and a marketplace and channel that truly exemplifies the statement “caveat emptor”—“buyer beware.”

 

Image courtesy of TTC.

https://s3.images-iherb.com/cms/pdf/SAM-e_Test_Results_March2020_v1.pdf

Image courtesy of TTC.

We sincerely hope that this will be a developing story in some form or fashion. For now, it is our collective industry responsibility to look at the facts presented, the behaviors depicted by both brands and ‘gatekeepers’ and deliberately and pointedly ask ‘what is wrong with this picture?’

Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.

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Scott Steinford, Founder, Trust Transparency Center
Scott Steinford has built a career of leading, learning and mentoring. Through immersion in many aspects of the supplement and pharmaceutical industry Scott has worked to redefine and improve business practices within the healthcare industry with an emphasis on transparency. His experience ranges from entry level to CEO and positions include organizations representing ingredient supplier, ingredient manufacturer, retail brand, private equity, M&A due diligence expert and trade organizations. Scott has a Pre-Law Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and a Master’s of Science Degree in Law from Champlain College. Scott currently is Executive Director for the CoQ10 Association and President of the Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA) and Founder of Trust Transparency Center, a boutique consulting organization dedicated to assisting companies seeking to improve both their internal and external trust transparency. Scott’s prior experience includes CEO of Doctor’s Best and maintained a pivotal role with a variety of ingredient manufacturers including Eisai, Kaneka and was a founder of ZMC-USA.

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