CSPI warns consumers off acai scams

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Consumers are being duped into purchasing acai products with bogus credit card schemes and exaggerated health and nutrition claims, according to the healthy food advocate, Consumers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The Washington DC-based group put out a missive today calling consumers off acai superfruit products offered online with free trials and claims not backed by science including weight loss, colon cleansing and enhancing sexual desire.

“If Bernard Madoff were in the food business, he’d be offering ‘free’ trials of açai-based weight-loss products,”​ said CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt. “Law enforcement has yet to catch up to these rogue operators. Until they do, consumers have to protect themselves.”

Acai mystique

Explaining why acai was being singled out for so much attention from less than scrupulous marketers, Schardt told NutraIngredients-USA.com there was a mystique surrounding the Brazilian berry that had won over a susceptible public and attracted swathes of quick-buck merchants.

“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should do more,”​ he said. “It is 2.5 months since the Better Business Bureau (BBB) produced a report highlighting 1000s of complaints about acai internet scams.”

Contacted by NutraIngredients-USA.com, FTC assistant director in the division of advertising practices, Rich Cleland, said his agency was aware of the complaints against some acai vendors that added up to the 1000s on websites such as www.complaintsboard.com​.

“We are aware of the problem,”​ Cleland said. “We have a full health case load at the moment and are close to operating at full capacity but that is not to say we are not looking at this.”

However CSPI noted that some of these supposed online receptacles for complaints were themselves bogus and fleecing money from consumer credit cards.

CSPI said consumers should look for a BBB quality seal program on sites that met certain specifications.

Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, said products would be investigated. “Aggressive Acai berry pitches on the Internet entice countless consumers into free trials promising weight loss, energy and detoxification. We will investigate these allegedly misleading or deceptive nutrition and health claims and take action under our consumer protection statutes—as we have done with other food products.”

CSPI named FWM Laboratories and Advanced Wellness Research as two companies that had “bilked” consumers with references to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray.

Acai grows wild in the Amazon and thanks to companies such as Sambazon and Nu-Fruits has become popular in western markets, especially in the form of juices and smoothies. Samabazon alone notched sales of $25 million in the US last year predominantly in powders and drinks.

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