The 14 Mega Corporations That Own Your Supplement Brand
We’re making some changes here at Woodstock Vitamins. Two Vitality Approved brands are being discontinued. Unlike many retailers who make their inventory decisions based on profit, we are constantly adding and removing brands based on a set of “Vitality Approved” standards. These two brands are not being removed due to violations of our quality standards, however. Instead, they are being removed because of strikes against our ethics standards - their impact on the environment, sustainability, and the communities they serve.
It’s high time we rant on the corporatization of the natural products industry. This rant is about perception. When we pull this curtain back, we can proudly say we’re one of the first to ever do it in such a way. This, for once, is a short rant, because a picture is worth a thousand words…
This Is A Rant About Perception
The one underlying theme in my supplement discussions with customers is perception. We have an incorrect perception of the natural product industry. We think that natural is better, safer, smaller, and less corrupt than dangerous medicine made by greedy big pharma. Our customers that achieve great health and wellness success know that neither are the angels or demons we think they are, and instead we should walk the Middle Path of Wellness.
We think our vitamins come from foods. Our herbs come from the freshest, homegrown plants. That supplement companies have owner-operators that proudly look out over their fields as the sun sets after a day of hard, but rewarding work.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. This perception comes from 70+ years of “fake news.”
In reality, about 14 mega-corporations own over 100 of the most popular supplement brands. One corporation will even own COMPETING brands. Many of these mega-corporations are private equity companies or pharmaceutical manufacturers. Boom. Mind blown.
So we made a thing. We're pretty proud of it. Enjoy!
The 14 Mega-Corporations That Own Your Supplement Brands
Recently, a private equity company that owned some very well known supplement brands was sold to Nestle. Yes, the chocolate company. This action led us to our recent actions, and this rant...
Dear Nestle: You Should Have Stuck To Chocolate
Nestle Health Sciences purchased Atrium Innovations, who owned the supplement brands Garden of Life, Pure Encapsulations, and Douglas Labs. Garden of Life did not meet our Vitality Approved standards and was never sold here. In fact, we wrote a nice article in their honor- The Garden of Lies- and use their products in our training staff on what NOT to do when making whole food supplements.
Pure Encapsulations and Douglas Labs, however, are both Vitality Approved brands. Fun fact: Donald Trump had his own pyramid scheme supplement company, Trump Vitamins. The fun fact is they used Douglas Labs - which is actually not a bad choice when you compare it to other similar profit-driven supplement companies. We didn’t hold it against Douglas Labs...
The impact of this acquisition probably won’t change things from a quality perspective. Pure Encapsulations and Douglas Labs will probably operate, at least for a while, as they have. If anything, they’ll get more streamlined, reduce costs, and maybe get more eyes on their products. I’d wager that from a quality perspective, not much will change at all. If you want to continue to use these products, feel free. You just can’t get them from us. We can’t willingly support brands that will put money into the coffers of Nestle.
Nestle is kinda evil. There’s a great summary here that discusses many of their wrongdoings. They do great things like introducing their baby formula into African countries and making the community members dependent upon it by advocating it over breastfeeding. Or maybe when they take water from areas under drought. Lots of fun stuff. There was a site dedicated to it, nestlewatch.org, that has since moved and stresses many different unethical practices of big brands, not just Nestle.
On top of it all, Nestle, the chocolate company, has sold their chocolate division this year to Ferrero. Nestle, now, is more “Health Sciences” and water than it is a chocolate company.
We’re Intentionally Overreacting
Admitted, it seems pretty drastic to get rid of these brands if nothing has changed from a quality standpoint. We’re going as far as to stop selling big-brand water bottles in the store.
As we’ve said many times before, we don’t rest on our laurels. We are always evaluating if a brand is a good fit for what we are trying to accomplish. The moral and ethical element plays a big part for us.
We’ll offer substitute products for these two brands and will sell through the line gradually until it’s all gone. You don’t have to throw them away or come get a refund - nothing is different. No big rush.
We’re also re-evaluating our standards around ethics and morals. We’ll now include parent company evaluations in the process to ensure a brand’s actions at each level are in sync with our vision.
I’m not saying that it is bad to “sell out.” I don’t think that finding an investment group that can help you grow and be a better version of yourself is bad. You can find a great match and really grow exponentially, allowing you to reach and help more people than you ever imagined. We can’t help, though, to get a visceral, gross, icky feeling when something like this happens though. It’s because we’ve been down this road, and it rarely ends up turning out ideally.
The Corporatization of Supplements
The world is quickly becoming owned by fewer and fewer companies. Economic shifts and resulting inequality causes pain and hardship. As companies gain power, they can quickly influence regulations (by removing or preventing them), allowing them to act with impunity and grow even larger and more powerful. Brands like Nestle grow to a point where their original mission is changed. They morph from what they wanted to be (a chocolate brand) to what they need to be: profitable and sustainable. A majority of their income shifts from their core product to other investment areas, until eventually, they’re only the same company in name. They make more money on their money than they do with their products.
Growth is fine. Change is inevitable. But the love of money, power, greed, and anger lead to the dark side of the force.
We have this urge to get cheaper and cheaper products. Everything is a commodity now. We expect things to appear instantly after we order the cheapest thing with little action. All of this stuff is super cool, for sure, but the side effect is the industry consolidation and resulting concentration of power.
We’re moving too fast.
It’s more than OK for the world to change, but what we value should not. We buy cheap and convenient things, but there’s a hidden cost - usually on lives we can’t see in places we’ve never been.
“So what’s the answer, Neal?” I don’t know. I like stuff too. All I can do is try to hold myself accountable and try not to be so hypocritical. I can’t complain about the issues, then support such organizations. A line has to be drawn in the sand. So we’re drawing it. Sorry Pure Encapsulations and Douglas Labs, it was fun.
What I can also do is help people become more informed. In our quest to evaluate our brands, I came up with a list of supplement brands and who owns them. What we found was interesting, but not surprising. I’m sharing the first version here with you, and more updates are coming. This is not a comment on quality, but instead a comment on the nature of the industry. The supplement industry is painted to be anti-pharma, incorruptible, and wholesome. Based on the image above, I don’t know if that is true.
While we’re at it, let’s discuss this Facebook thing. I’m cool with a company gathering data on me in an attempt to market me products. If I have to be exposed to commercials and ads, it should only be to things that interest me. Analyzing this data and using it is not a problem for me, at all.
That’s not what is happening here. Don’t let anyone spin it any other way. It’s another mega-corporation acting with impunity…
Facebook broke US law. They collected data from your friends without their consent. They gave that data to an organization that works for the Russian government. They allowed Russian organizations to use that data to post false, targeted news stories to manipulate the US election. They also recorded phone calls and text messages you make on your phone, which often had their app installed on it. (Thanks u/ExhibitionistVoyeurP on reddit for that breakdown)
And the CEO gives some half-hearted, fake apology.
Supplement brands spread their misinformation like wildfire via social media. Your cousin now sells you supplements and shakes. Social media has radically changed how we behave as humans.
We’re voting with our dollars where we can. We’ll continue to have a Facebook and Instagram page, for now. We will not, however, be giving a dollar in advertising revenue to them until there is meaningful reform. For a growing business like ours, that will SEVERELY limit our impact and growth. We have to stay true to the “integrity” part of our mission.
Help Us Not Be Hypocrites
“Wait, didn’t you sell out to a big pharmacy chain, Neal?” Why, yes I did…
For those who don’t know, I started my business career by opening a pharmacy in my hometown of Saugerties, NY. In 2016, 9 years after we opened, I sold that store to CVS.
It was the toughest decision of my life. I’d argue the situation was a bit different than what I’m ranting about here. Our industry was (and still is) radically changing. It’s changed to where the business of pharmacy, and healthcare in general, isn’t sustainable as an individual practitioner. I tried private buyers to keep it independent. The pharmacy wave is crashing, and a private buyer would have just delayed the inevitable. Plus, they weren’t able to take care of the staff in the way that the big guys did. I did all I could to ensure a smooth transition. It gets messy. Things change.
I also didn’t disappear. I switched business models to a more sustainable division of what we had built, shutting down stuff that didn’t work out or didn’t have a long term future. I’ve held strong to that vision. When the Rite Aid here in Woodstock closed, they offered us the records first - at a steal. I didn’t take them. I’ve been offered reasonable (for Woodstock) deals on real estate, putting us in firing range of CVS, and almost guaranteeing us rapid growth in pharmacy. I didn’t do it.
I will be around longer as a pharmacist in this community by focusing on delivering our message of Wellness with Integrity to the national stage. I have to do what I can to minimize our dependence on pharmacy revenue so we can provide these services for as long as possible. I still help Saugerties customers who need it. I’d run through a wall for them, and I miss them dearly. They call me out on selling out, and they are partly right. I predict that many other independent pharmacies who were almost solely reliant on prescription business will be closing their doors in the next few years. It’s unfortunate, but real.
Change comes, things need to evolve. We have and will hold true to what our mission is. We’re not going from a pharmacy to a supplement company to a jewelry business. And we won’t pollute any water, spread misinformation, or become the snake-oil salesmen we loathe.
All we can do is try to not be hypocritical. I’m not saying “selling out” is bad. A good business person plans the birth, life, and death of a business. Trading ownership for dollars is part of that. It’s a way to make the business stronger and touch more lives than a single, passionate person and their team could. For me it was a way to get in a better place mentally and, most important, with my family. When you sell to Nestle, who seem to make a habit of questionable, unethical practices, you may share the same reasons as I had. The big pharmacy chains may be winning the game, but their not on the same plane of unethical as we feel Nestle is.
What I ask of you is to help us always have integrity. If you see us supporting something that you don’t think we should, let us know. We will own our faults and work to fix them.
Change Your Mind
In all, what we are setting out to do is change people’s mindset around the natural product industry. Natural products can help people live happier, healthier lives. To embrace this fully, we must also embrace the truth. The story we’ve told ourselves (or they taught us to tell ourselves) about the industry is not the correct one. We must truly look at what is real - the actions, the results - and make a better, solid, more informed decisions based on this reality.
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth