Often, marketing in the bodybuilding oriented facet of the supplement industry can disappoint, with it’s baseless claims and assumption the general public is a herd of mindless sheep-like consumers. As disheartening as it may be, it hails nothing in comparison to the size, revenue, and impact of the ‘health’ supplement industry; with well known offenders such as Advocare / Herbalife, ViSalus etc. Companies such as these have abused a multilevel marketing business model by preying on the most vulnerable of our society, manipulating their ignorance and it’s consequential gullibility, and playing on people’s most intrinsic hopes / dreams; in much the same way one might receive an email from the ‘Prince’ of Nigeria claiming to require a quick cash advance.
These companies sell to distributors, who sell to distributors, who sell to people that use it, eventually ending up distributors as well; promising everyone along the way vast fortunes and financial independence (even a car! That’s leased…) By knowingly selling a product with excessively inflated values, that’s dependent on good intentions but misinformation of vulnerable communities, many of these MLM supplement companies have quickly become pyramid schemes; even coming under legal scrutiny for their abuse of minorities when companies such as Herbalife was recently ordered to pay over 15 million dollars in a class-action lawsuit, after courts found the company responsible for having traits of a pyramid scheme (Slate.) In response, many of these companies have since gone international, expanding into quickly developing economies of 3rd world countries, which offer lax financial laws and regulation or the capabilities to truly enforce them. These companies fail to provide the quality of tools required for the type of long-term success they promise, pertaining to both health and finances. Instead, they sell the idea of success, and try to put the entire burden of responsibly on the consumer, when the reality is they know exactly what they are doing, and formulated a business model around the concept.
Do not forget, many if not most of these ‘X-Day’ weight-loss challenge oriented supplements that companies are selling contain subpar quality ingredients at best. One of the most commonly utilized ingredients is soy-proteins because of their low cost. Being an abundant plant protein, soy is one of the cheapest possible protein sources around; however, this lack of quality comes at a price to your body. Soy has been shown to act as a phytoestrogen, meaning the body treats it similar to estrogen (Cornell.) These phytoestrogens essentially mimic estrogen, often competing for and blocking the same hormone receptor sites in the body that estrogen acts on; this can trigger a cascade of hormonal issues in both men and women by activating these receptor sites with less than optimal hormones, that are less effective than the undesired (excessive) estrogen it’s mimicking.
These companies use the cheapest possible ingredients, put them in a jar, slap a sticker on it, mark up the price insane proportions, and crank in the cash. 2lb of Advocare’s “Post-Workout Recovery Sports Drink” sells for $80 on their website. The three main ingredients are as follows: Maltodextrin, Fructose, and Soy-Protein (Advocare.) As previously mentioned, the main source of protein is soy as it’s so cheap, costing around $5.50 per lb at normal market prices, which get much cheaper when purchased in quantity. Multiple sugars serve as the other primary ingredients, and are even less costly per a pound than any protein products. The result is a powder that costs well under $20 to produce, then being sold for 4x to 8x its production cost.
Another common industry practice is ‘Protein Spiking;’ the process of taking isolated Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s,) and instead of using an assortment of quality essential amino-acids, companies select the cheapest they can find, often of poor-grade that tend to have a low synthesis rate in the body. Though not optimal for the consumer, these cheap aminos pass as proteins when lab tested; allowing companies to display an amount of protein content on their labels that is high, while keeping expenses low. An even simpler marketing trick is to slap ‘BCAA’s’ on the bottle, as many have heard of their benefits, but fail to truly understand where they get their value to the body, making it easy to goad them into buying these products / systems.
As low of quality as these supplements may be, if someone was putting almost no effort into their diet or training previously and failing to consume the most basic fuels required for change, then of course even with less than optimal quality they will see limited results from these products; until eventually most reach a plateau of sorts, and unable to continue their forward progress as they never learned the fundamental steps that lead to lasting change. Supplement companies understandably need to mark-up prices on the goods they sell, that is part of capitalism and how profits are generated. However, look at the cost of raw materials vs what these MLM companies sell to consumers for, the tactics they use to do so, as well as the ultimate negative consequences it has for both consumers and supplement market as whole. One has to wonder if or how long it will be until an increasingly educated public catches onto these scams, and continues to move even further towards truly achieving the goal of controlling their health, leaving these companies in the fleeting wake of progress.