Naturade is a California company manufacturing and distributing “natural” products since 1926. Obviously in this day and age of so many companies of all kinds popping up only to disappear after just a brief taste of success, Naturade must have been doing something right all this time.
So we checked up on the company history to see if we could identify the secret of their longevity.
What’s The Company?
The Naturade range includes vitamins, supplements, skin and hair care formulations, anti-aging products and others which are charmingly described as having “helped millions of men overcome their deficiencies and regain self-confidence”. (We’re talking bedroom problems here.)
Brands include Total Soy, a complete meal replacement for weight loss and cholesterol reduction … various protein powders including their Pea Protein Vanilla … ReVivex, for arthritis pain relief … Diet Lean for low carb dieting … SportPharma for sports nutrition … Ageless, for counteracting the effects of aging … Symbiotics, a colostrum-based line of products and “other niche dietary supplements”.
Naturade’s products are distributed through supermarkets, mass merchandisers including Walmart, health food markets – and even the military – throughout the US, Canada and other international markets. They also create private label products for “a limited amount of customers”.
And Naturade is on the PETA “Don’t Test” list, meaning the company has been recognized by the animal rights organization as not testing any of its products on animals – and that’s always good for public relations.
Sounds Good – What’s The Catch?
Well, there are other aspects to Naturade which haven’t exactly been good for their public relations over the years, and there have been other, not-so-complimentary lists the company has appeared on.
Most recently we found quite a justified complaint in a page full of online product reviews for Naturade’s Total Soy, where the customer had received a 540-gram container which was only half-full of the product, so he only got 250 grams.
But there have been other “catches” over the years, including issues with overcoming those deficiencies and regaining that self-confidence, which we’ll take a look at shortly.
Will Naturade Products Do What They’re Claimed To Do?
It depends: we looked at their Pea Protein Vanilla a while back and discovered that although it’s marketed as a protein booster, it’s very heavy on “organic cane sugar”.
“Organic” always sounds good, doesn’t it? But cane sugar can leach nutrients from the body during the digestion process, thereby potentially doing more harm than good. It also sets up a feedback loop, just like refined sugar, in that the more you consume the more you want to consume.
Their Pea Protein Vanilla isn’t as much about pea protein as it is about a much more concentrated version: pea protein isolate. This can drastically increase the amount of uric acid in the blood, which can cause weight gain, joint pain, and impaired kidney function.
To counteract this, Naturade add nitrates to the product. These also have potential for unpleasant side effects, including weight gain, so it’s a good thing they don’t market Pea Protein Vanilla as a weightloss product.
And then of course there’s also the small problem of those bedroom issues, which we’ll get to soon.
What’s The Problem With The Company?
Although PETA lists Naturade as being a company showing compassion and caring towards our furry friends, that caring and compassion doesn’t exactly extend towards their human counterparts. And vice-versa. In short, Naturade is no stranger to the courtroom.
Sometimes it seems like they’ve spent more time litigating (and being litigated against) than they have in the laboratory, dreaming up new products, developing them without testing them on animals and then marketing them.
So here’s just a little bit of company history for you.
Let’s start back in 1982, when Naturade were manufacturing Alpha-Slim, a diet-aid pill they claimed to help the body pass starch through without digesting it, thereby lowering the calorie count.
Alpha-Slim was made from kidney beans and northern beans (both raw), which contained a substance that was claimed to reduce the effectiveness of natural enzymes which digest starch.
There were three problems here, the first being that Naturade and many other manufacturers of similar starch-blocking products disagreed with the Food and Drug Administration’s assessment of those products. The FDA said that starch blockers weren’t food supplements as everybody who made them claimed, but instead they should be classified as drugs.
The second problem was that the FDA had been alerted to some unfortunate side-effects (including hospitalization) brought on by starch blockers, and they were not impressed. Especially since those starch blockers, no matter whether they were really food or really drugs, didn’t have FDA approval in the first place.
And the third problem was the FDA’s decision to forbid anyone from marketing starch blockers from there on in.
At which point, that July, the FDA found itself getting hit with two separate lawsuits in Chicago and New York from 20 companies, which had previously manufactured and marketed those starch blockers. And guess who was among those manufacturers.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we now move forward in time to 1999, when Naturade’s Fat-Free Vegetable Protein proudly carried the message “CONTAINS NO MSG” on the container.
And containing no MSG is a very good thing, as good as not testing any products on animals. Although MSG is said to be used by many food manufacturers to enhance the taste of their products, that enhancement comes at a cost: it’s addictive and it’s been linked to some seriously nasty side effects.
It also boosts the amount of insulin created by the pancreas so efficiently that when scientists need obese mice and rats for diet-related studies, they merely inject those animals with MSG shortly after they’re born and as the babies grow, they balloon.
While we’re on the subject, you might be interested to know that Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein is just another name for just another form of MSG, just like the glutamic acid which hasn’t been produced by the human body.
Unfortunately for Naturade, their Fat-Free Vegetable Protein might not have contained MSG per se, but it did contain close to half a gram of glutamic acid in each single serving.
And that’s why Naturade found themselves on the truthinlabeling.org list of companies committing labeling violations.
While we were leisurely reading through Chapter 11 filings (as one does), we found that in 2006 there were certain Bankruptcy Court legal proceedings which involved Naturade and UPS, Yellow Transportation, Omni-Pak Industries and over 70 others.
They included one Peter Pocklington, better known to hockey fans as Peter Puck, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers who traded Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings, who was the reason why Naturade filed for Chapter 11 in the first place.
Moving on three years to 2009, we find another legal document. Its 267 pages list the reasons why Naturade were on the receiving end of another lawsuit, brought about by none other than the good Dr. Oz and TV Queen Oprah Winfrey herself.
This time Naturade (and other companies) were charged with using their images to advertise products and give the impression that any advertising using their name was, quote: “sponsored or otherwise approved of by Dr. Oz and/or Ms. Winfrey.”
Among the other counts there we find fraudulent credit card schemes, failing to properly disclose contact information and obscuring proper names to make contacting them difficult if not impossible (always useful when it comes to fraudulent credit card schemes). Also included were creating fake blogs and news reports, together with unauthorized and deceptive use of the names and images of Dr. Oz and Oprah in their internet advertising, unsolicited email and videos.
This made a change from other times when Dr. Oz found himself on the receiving end of lawsuits for promoting various weightloss products proven to have little or no effect. You can find out more about the good Doctor’s trials and tribulations here.
Then in 2010, Naturade found themselves being sued for “misappropriation of trade secrets, fraud and breach of contract”. Briefly, Naturade and a company named Scilabs Nutraceuticals had partnered in the development of working formulas for thirteen Naturade products until that partnership broke up and Naturade kept those formulas’ “trade secrets”. So Scilab called in the lawyers.
That same year and the one afterwards saw Naturade receiving complaints relating to California’s Proposition 65.
Analysis of eight of their products led to complaints that they had “manufactured and distributed products that have exposed and continue to expose numerous individuals within California to lead …a chemical known to cause developmental toxicity and male and female reproductive toxicity … without first providing clear and reasonable warning”.
In 2013, Naturade faced another class action concerning FlexAid, a product claimed to provide “a variety of significant health benefits for the cartilage and joints of all consumers who ingest FlexAid”. At least, that’s what the opening statement of the lawsuit said.
It was a class action brought on by one Dragan Vasic, “On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated” on the basis that those FlexAid claims were “false, misleading and reasonably likely to deceive the public”.
The reasoning behind this class action was that “All available scientific evidence demonstrates that the FlexAid products have no efficacy at all, are ineffective in the improvement of joint health, and provide no benefits related to the reduction of pain in human joints or protecting cartilage from breakdown. In fact, Defendants do not have any competent, reliable scientific evidence that substantiates their representations about the health benefits of consuming FlexAid.”
The following year, men across North America and elsewhere around the world were expecting to “overcome their deficiencies and regain self-confidence” (well, we did promise to tell you about this, didn’t we?).
They were pinning their hopes on clearing up those little bedroom issues thanks to Naturade’s Vitali-T-Aid testosterone booster, containing “clinically studied Testofen”, claimed to “significantly increase free testosterone levels”.
Several other supplement manufacturers also created and marketed products containing Testofen, which was great for whoever made it … but not so great for all those confidence-lacking customers who bought it. Many of them brought a multiple-count class action against Naturade and other manufacturers, because Testofen didn’t actually help them overcome those deficiencies and regain their self-confidence. At all.
We waded through all 75 pages of what was one of Naturade’s by now pretty well annual class action suits, and the first of all those multiple counts was “VIOLATIONS OF RACKETEER INFLUENCED AND CORRUPT ORGANIZATIONS ACT, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c)”.
We then couldn’t help but think of nattily-dressed 1920s gentlemen toting briefcases full of supplement samples, and violin cases containing Thompson submachine guns.
A bit of a drastic image, perhaps, but if Prohibition-era gangsters were busy manufacturing and distributing alcohol that wasn’t quite the genuine article, couldn’t the same be said for modern-day racketeers?
At least back in the 1920s people knew the bathtub gin they were drinking really was bathtub gin, so those gangsters couldn’t legally be hauled up for violations for false advertising law, fraud, breach of implied fitness for a particular purpose, negligent misrepresentation and all the other claims made against Naturade in this particular class action.
Obviously people out there love Naturade (their seriously well-paid lawyers, for instance), otherwise the company wouldn’t have stayed in business since 1926.
But if you’re looking to improve the condition of your skin or hair, boost your energy, reduce your weight, or restore your, er, confidence, we’re not going to say avoid Naturade products completely, but we would definitely advise caution.
After all, their minds not be entirely on the job in hand: remember that complaint right at the beginning, the one from the customer who received a 540-gram container which was only half-full of Total Soy, so he only got 250 grams instead?
It might just be that instead of concentrating fully on developing, manufacturing, packing, and dispatching that particular product on that particular day, people at Naturade were worrying more about yet another upcoming court appearance instead.
And with a history of so many of those court appearances, that kind of worry could be a permanent state of affairs within the organization, so concentration levels there could well be permanently low.
On the other hand, Naturade don’t do any animal testing.
So that’s OK, then.
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