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September 1, 2014

Some Online Stores Make Shoppers Buy Vitamins Blindly

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

 A few months ago we stressed the importance of reading the ingredients statement on vitamin bottles because some store brands that claim to be comparable to the name brand simply are not. (See our CVS vs. Bausch + Lomb story.)

While it is relatively easy to compare bottle labels in a store aisle, the same cannot always be said about shopping online for vitamins. A review by Consumer World and Mouse Print* of major online retailers that sell vitamins reveals that several of the biggest companies publish little or no information about the ingredients in their products.

EquateFor example, Walmart sells the Equate brand as their store brand. If you were interested in getting their version of Centrum Silver because it is $10 a bottle cheaper, you would find it impossible to know in advance whether it really was equivalent because Walmart does not publish the ingredients listing. All Walmart says on their website with respect to ingredients for Equate Multivitamin Active Adult 50+ is (*MOUSE PRINT:) “This multivitamin supplement contains vitamin D, K, B12, as well as calcium.” The real Centrum Silver has about 30 vitamins and minerals. While the Equate version may or may not have all the vitamins in the same amounts as Centrum Silver, you would have to make a trip to store to find out.

And even if they published the so-called “Supplement Facts” for Equate — the box on the back of vitamin bottles showing each vitamin, the amount in each pill, and what percentage of the daily requirement was provided — you couldn’t compare it to the list for Centrum Silver because Walmart’s website doesn’t disclose that brand’s contents either.

Walmart is not alone in failing to publish these ingredients lists. A brief review of Target’s website and that of Rite Aid reveals they are missing complete vitamin ingredients labels in many cases too.

For example, Target’s Up & Up store brand of Gummy Prenatal Multivitamins claims to be comparable to Vitafusion Prenatal. All it says in the description is that it “Contains 800 mg of Folic Acid as well as 50 mg of DHA per serving.” Target’s website does not disclose the ingredients in the brand name either other than to say it contains folic acid and DHA. The real Vitafusion Prenatal product has these ingredients according to the company’s own website:

*MOUSE PRINT:

supplement facts

Some other vitamins on Target’s website, like the Up & Up version of Centrum Silver, seemingly lists all the ingredients, but only for three of the over 30 ingredients does it disclose how much of that particular vitamin or mineral is contained in each pill.

Moving onto the big three drug chains in the United States, while both CVS and Walgreens disclose all the “supplement facts” for their vitamins, Rite Aid does not. Their store brand of Centrum does not disclose even one of the vitamins in the bottle, but it does disclose all the inactive ingredients/fillers:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Microcrystalline Cellulose, Gelatin, Croscarmellose Sodium, Stearic Acid, Polyvinyl Alcohol, Titanium Dioxide, Polyethylene Glycol, Magnesium Stearate, Silicon Dioxide, FD&C Yellow 6 Lake.

For Centrum itself, Rite Aid’s website offers this helpful information:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Centrum

We asked Walmart, Target, and Rite Aid why they don’t always disclose the content of vitamins they sell online, and whether they would begin doing so to help shoppers know what they are buying and enable them to compare one product to another.

Walmart responded:

[paraphrasing] Suppliers did not always provide the ingredients to us, but our company is committed to getting complete ingredient information on the website. — Walmart.com spokesperson

Target responded (in disappointing, non-apologetic PR speak):

“At Target, we strive to comply with all applicable regulations. We continually evaluate and make enhancements to the product assortment and information provided on Target.com.” — Target spokesperson

Rite Aid responded:

“Improved product descriptions, including ingredient listing, is a section of our website that we have already identified as an area for improvement. We are currently in the process of developing additional solutions, which we expect to launch in the near future, that will provide more product details to our online shoppers, enhancing their shopping experience and allowing them to make informed purchases.” — Rite Aid spokesperson

The Food and Drug Administration does not require “supplement facts” disclosures on websites, saying, “The FDA does not generally specify how online sellers of dietary supplements should display information about dietary ingredients in their products on websites.”

When examples of online sites failing to make full disclosure of vitamin contents were shown to the FDA, their spokesperson indicated it would probably take an act of Congress to get the agency to require ingredients listings online.

Let’s hope that online companies will recognize the inexplicable disservice they are currently offering and that they all begin making full ingredient disclosures to shoppers voluntarily.

• • •

5 Comments

  1. I find this occasionally at Amazon as well. But they are inconsistent. I suppose it’s the individual store, selling through Amazon. that determines what content to show. Some will offer a photo of the back of the bottle, listing the ingredients, but others do not. It’s sheer lunacy. Marketing 101 to me. How do you expect to sell a nutritional supplement without telling people exactly what’s in it. No one in their right mind should make a first time purchase without that info. For those already familiar with the product, sure, you can make a repeat buy without it, but why miss the opportunity to get a new customer, and drive them to another online site, for the simple lack of a picture of the whole label.

    Comment by rjdriver — September 1, 2014 @ 7:35 am
  2. FDA does have the authority to do something about this glaring problem. They just don’t want to. The agency’s own website, in fact, states the following.

    “As its resources permit, FDA also reviews product labels and other product information, such as package inserts, accompanying literature, and Internet promotion.”

    http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm050803.htm

    Comment by HMC — September 1, 2014 @ 7:39 am
  3. Those are some really basic “non-answers” from the 3 companies. In no way should it be difficult to post nutritional facts along with product descriptions. If someone is putting up a product page they should have all of the merchandise information available right there. I don’t see why there wouldn’t be an image of the nutrition label as well as a description on the website. This is a good example of “if something is not required then they probably won’t do it”. Rite-Aid even has a nutrition information tab on its website that directs people to view the package they they cannot view online.

    The FDA should require disclosure of this information any place that consumers are able to purchase a product. It shouldn’t matter HOW the information is displayed as long as it is there. I have a feeling that this may have something to do with packages sometimes changing and companies avoiding lawsuits (also laziness). Of course, consumers should also avoid purchasing food if they do not have a nutritional label with ingredients.

    Comment by Wayne R — September 1, 2014 @ 9:21 am
  4. The reality is, hardly anyone really needs these products. Eat healthy and wise and skip all the supplements.

    Comment by Max — September 1, 2014 @ 1:54 pm
  5. Bariatric surgery patients are often required to take vitamins for the rest of their lives, so vitamin information is very important.

    Comment by Ronda — September 2, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

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