Business is cruising. Wal-mart, Target, GNC and Walgreens — and likely a host of supermarkets and pharmacies — sell your products.
But then along comes an aggressive attorney general for the impactful State of New York, Eric Schneiderman, and says an investigation alleges your products are bunk. Broccoli powder. Rice dust.
You might as well call your products Witches Brew and list contents like Eye of Newt, bat whiskers, mummified toenails, black cat fat, vampire blood, gargoyle sweat, troll teeth, broom sweepings….you get the idea. EEEuwwww.
The investigators reportedly tested 24 products claiming to be seven different types of beneficial herbs — echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. All but five of the products contained unrecognizable DNA or came from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.
Additionally, five of the 24 contained wheat and two contained beans, without identifying them on the labels — both substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen, who is an expert on supplement safety, told the New York Times that “if this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”
What can the health supplements industry — long looked at skeptically by consumers already — possibly do to counter this indictment?
Well, first of all, the consuming public seems to have an insatiable thirst for snake oil. Consider: The New York attorney general’s letters also cited a 2013 Canadian study of 44 common supplements, in which one-third of herbal supplements that were tested contained no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle.
And they were presumably still on store shelves despite past battering.
But one element of this we’ve seen in past issues like tobacco use. State attorneys general watch their peers and if this works for New York, other states will get on board.
This is a fatal crisis.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.