The article "Superfruit: squeezing cold cash out of three 'hot' juices" appears in November's issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter and finds fault with the marketing strategies of super fruit juices derived from mangosteen, noni and pomegranate.
The debate once again brings to light the important issue of credibility the nutraceutical industry has been vying for as companies with strong research and development try to differentiate themselves from companies making contraversial claims.
The Washington-based pressure group, with a reputation for taking a hard line, points the finger at three super fruit juices - XanGo mangosteen juice, Tahitian Noni juice and POM pomegranate juice - questioning their marketing practices.
"Are these three juices 'super', or just a super opportunity for a lot of people to make a lot of money?" asked author David Schardt.
Schardt accuses the companies of making dubious claims via customer testimonials.
The Utah company XanGo began marketing mangosteen in 2002 and Schardt cites that it sells its mangosteen juice at $35 per 25oz bottle, bringing sales from $40mn in the first year to a whopping $200mn in 2005.
In September, XanGo CEO Gary Hollister received a US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warning letter regarding its "Mangosteen brochure combo pack", which said:"Labeling used by distributors of your product promotes your product for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease."
In the letter, FDA district director Belinda Collins gave XanGo 15 working days to advise the agency of specific plans to prevent such distributors from promoting products illegally.
In a response statement to the FDA letter, XanGo distanced itself from the publicity materials prepared by its distributors. "...It appears that the FDA believes that it ordered the literature directly from XanGo and that these materials are company-produced literature. This is not the case, and we believe this fact will be important in resolving the issue.
...XanGo does not publish nor endorse any literature that makes health claims. Further, XanGo does not condone the use of noncompliant literature by its distributors, and makes every effort to educate distributors on the difference between compliant and non-compliant literature."
XanGo also says it is working to resolve this issue.
According to the comments made by Schardt this week, the last human clinical trial involving mangosteen was performed in a Singapore hospital in 1932.
Schardt charges that testimonial websites created by XanGo dealers are a means of advertising its super fruit juice by alluding to wide sweeping health claims through the personal experience of consumers, without the company actually having to make any illegal therapeutic claims itself.
"User testimonials don't count unless you have scientific explanations for them," Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection attorney Peter Miller told SupplySide West attendees last week in Las Vegas.
Schardt said POM Wonderful pomegranate juice is better scientifically-backed than the mangosteen and noni juices thanks to a $10mn investment into research at major universities on the part of owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick. "As a result, pomegranate juice is far ahead of mangosteen and noni juice in scientific evidence."
Still, in the past, POM Wonderful came to the attention of the Council of Better Business Bureaus' National Advertising Division with claims such as "can help prevent premature aging, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, even cancer." And the company's current ads turn heads with slogans such as: "Death defying", "Cheat death" and "Relax, you'll live longer".
The nutraceutical industry has been coming up with policy initiatives to earn more credibility in light of products with questionable claims. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), for one, recently announced it is funding the NAD to hire an additional attorney to focus exclusively on supplements. Among other things, the motivation behind this move is to put an end to deceptive or misleading claims.
The dietary supplement industry is regulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which is part of the Food and Cosmetics Act.
Unlike pharmaceuticals, which must go through a series of pre-market approvals, finished dietary supplements need no pre-market approval. Only ingredients not marketed in the US before October 1994 must be approved by the FDA before being used in consumer products.
Although the supplement industry upholds DSHEA is a good law, its detractors call for greater regulation. To avoid this, the industry has pushed for self-regulation and protection of its reputation against non-DSHEA compliant products - especially those being sold via the Internet.
POM Wonderful did not return NutraIngredient-USA's inquiry in time for publication of this article.