NOW reveals new trick spotted on Amazon to deceive consumers about product quality

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - FTiare
©Getty Images - FTiare

Related tags Quality assurance Dietary supplement Dietary supplement industry Dietary supplements

In an ongoing market surveillance program, supplement manufacturer NOW has revealed a new trick spotted on Amazon to deceive consumers about what a product’s testing results actually mean.

A brand was spotted that had posted Certificates of Analysis in an apparent attempt to bolster the purported quality of its products.  However, a deeper analysis of the CofAs revealed that they confirmed merely that the capsules in question conformed to the specified fill weight.  

Meaningless citation

The documents had nothing to say about what was in the capsules.  Thus they are meaningless when assessing the identity, potency and purity of the materials within.  Unfortunately, NOW (which characterized the tactic as ‘brazen’) said this is a level of detail that likely would elude all but the best informed consumers.

Amazon has been criticized for years for the kinds of supplements sold on its site and the conditions under which those supplements are sold.  Stories circulated about knockoff products of poor quality and of holding conditions in warehouses that didn’t conform to federal regulations.  

NOW willing to go on record

Until NOW began its testing program, however, few if any sources within the dietary supplement industry were willing to go on record to detail the problems.  To date, NOW has conducted seven rounds of market surveillance in which products were purchased on Amazon and tested in NOW’s state of the art in-house lab as well as in a third party lab.  

The company has made the results of the tests public and has named the products and their manufacturers.  Among the ingredient  categories tested are curcumin, CoQ10, SAMe, quercetin and others.

The program has earned NOW recognition  in the form of the 2021 NutraIngredients-USA award for Industry Initiative of the Year. 

In late 2020 Amazon instituted sweeping new requirements for sellers of supplements​ on its site.  Whether NOW’s publicizing the poor quality of many supplements for sale on the site had anything to do with that is unconfirmed.

According the requirements, sellers now are supposed to submit documentation to prove:

  • That the product meets the potency claims specified on the label.
  • That the product is manufactured under current Good Manufacturing Practices as listed in 21 CFR Part 111.
  • That only lawful and safe, as defined in section 402 (f) of the FD&C Act, ingredients are utilized.
  • That concentration of active ingredient(s) as stated on the label is safe for consumption.

Despite evidence of problems, business continues as usual

However, in the view of Dan Richard, NOW’s Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing (and the executive leading the testing program), the new requirements haven’t gone far enough as problems such as the above CofA example persist.

“I think many of us had hoped that Amazon would institute safeguards that would marginalize companies engaging in this type of behavior,”​ Richard said.  “My wish is for Amazon to be very specific in their documentation requirements, be fully transparent with their rules, and enforce them for all brands selling on their platform.” 

Richard said NOW has had no communication from Amazon as to whether it will begin policing sellers on the site when they have been shown to be bending or breaking the rules.

“Unfortunately, Amazon has not shared any information regarding NOW’s quality testing or specific low potency brands.  We have asked for this information, but have been unable to get responses.  It is frustrating when we find brands fail potency tests in more than one category and yet business continues as usual.  Perhaps Amazon is doing something behind the scenes, but no changes are apparent from what I can see,” ​he said.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

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