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. Industry Transparency Center (“ITC”) has itself conducted tests on products containing coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), astaxanthin, curcumin, and lutein, and ITC’s findings are similar to the NOW testing results. As part of our ongoing investigations into Amazon and other online vendors’ vetting practices, ITC 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:
- Fix the product problem
- Ignore repeated communications
- Discontinue the product
- Threaten litigation if we made the information public
ITC 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 ITC 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 ITC 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 ITC 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’.
We sincerely hope that this will be a developing story in some frame 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?’