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June 30, 2014

Don’t Assume the Store Brand is Comparable

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

 Many savvy shoppers automatically grab the store brand even when it comes to health products.

In fact, the store brand often says that it is comparable to XYZ name brand right on the package. For example, this package of CVS “Advanced Eye Health” sits right next to Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision AREDS 2 Formula on store shelves and says in large letters “comparable to ongoing study formula in AREDS 2.”

PreserVision vs. CVS

PreserVision AREDS 2 formula contains all the ingredients from the second of two studies that were shown to be effective in slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a very serious eye condition leading to partial blindness. This particular combination of vitamins and minerals resulted from years of testing sponsored by the federal government through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “AREDS 2” refers to this second and the most recent completed five-year study reported on in May 2013. So, it is very important for any product that is promoted to be a comparable product to mirror the list of ingredients that has proven successful in these tests.

A review of the two ingredients panels reveals some big surprises:


ingredients comparison

Keep in mind that the Bausch + Lomb product on the left has the exact ingredients that were found to be the most effective in the most recent study. The formula is patented.

The CVS product on the right has only two of the six ingredients that were judged most effective in the most recent study, plus omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids were in fact tested in the AREDS 2 study, but deemed not to improve the efficacy of the product. Bausch + Lomb removed the omega-3 from the current formula because the study found that “Omega-3 fatty acids … clearly do not reduce the risk of progression to advanced AMD.” CVS did not remove it.

So one really has to wonder with only two of the six ingredients that were found to have any effect, what value is there in taking the CVS product? Consumers are likely grabbing this product to save money based on the label claim, and not realizing the formulation is different. In so doing, they are likely under the mistaken belief that it will help slow the progression of macular degeneration.

We asked CVS to comment on the stark differences between PreserVision and the CVS brand. We wanted to know how they could call it “comparable” to the AREDS 2 formulation, since it only had two of the six ingredients found to work.

The packaging of our CVS/pharmacy Advanced Eye Health states that it is comparable to the “ongoing study formula in AREDS2.” No comparison is made to the national brand product.

When this product was launched in July 2012, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) was ongoing. CVS/pharmacy Advanced Eye Health dietary supplement was formulated with the same nutrients as used in one of the study arms. The “comparable to” claim was designed to invite consumers to compare the product to the study arm while noting the ongoing nature of the clinical trial. The packaging also notes that there were other formulations being studied.

We are in the process of removing this statement from the product packaging now that the results of the AREDS2 study have been released. — CVS Director of Public Relations

CVS is correct that they don’t compare their product to PreserVision directly and their claim refers to the “ongoing” tests. But the tests referred to are long over. And, the Bausch + Lomb product is the final AREDS 2 formulation as found in the AREDS 2 study. It says “AREDS 2” on the label, and it sits right next to the CVS version on store shelves. Given that, consumers will inevitably make the comparison to PreserVision and assume the CVS version is the same. They are not likely to go off and do medical research to read the full study to understand what was being tested and how it compared to the CVS product.

CVS, however, appears to be incorrect when it says that the ingredients in its product are “the same nutrients as used in one of the study arms.” The study was very complex, but basically it took the original AREDS formulation of vitamins and minerals and tested ADDING things to it. In one part of the test, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3s were added to the basic AREDS formula. The CVS product however, ONLY has those three added ingredients and none of the original proven AREDS ingredients. To analogize, imagine if CVS was coming out with a new detergent plus bleach product. It added bleach to the detergent bottle, but did not put in the main ingredient, the actual detergent.

Lastly, while it is good that CVS has agreed to remove the comparability claim from its packaging, they should have done that a year ago when the AREDS 2 study was finished and released. And they probably should remove the current product from store shelves pending the revision of the packaging claims.

Should CVS continue to market this product with its current formulation either expressly or impliedly as being comparable to either the AREDS 2 formula or to Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision, you have to understand that it has not been proven to slow the progression of a disease that could rob you of your vision.

If you purchased CVS Advanced Eye Health, please post a comment indicating what your experience was, what you believed you were buying, and how you feel about the revelation that it is not the equivalent of the AREDS 2 formula.

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  1. “To analogize, imagine if CVS was coming out with a new detergent plus bleach product. It added bleach to the detergent bottle, but did not put in the main ingredient, the actual detergent.”

    That is a good analogy. When I realized it was the vitamins that were missing it was surprising. I figured that vitamins are cheap to manufacture since so much food is regularly fortified with them. Of course the CVS product is going to be cheaper if it has fewer ingredients – especially if the original ingredients are removed.

    The CVS product also lasts half as long as the B+L product. It takes 4 softgels of the CVS product to get the same amount of nutrient as 2 softgels of the B+L product. Consumers get shifted all around if they purchase the CVS product rather than the B+L product.

    CVS knows that many consumers will not pay attention to details. Supplements can sometimes help, but for the most part people seem to do fine without them and the FDA doesn’t even bother to verify their claims. I think it is best to just eat a well balanced diet until more conclusive evidence is provided.

    Comment by Wayne R — June 30, 2014 @ 8:17 am
  2. What CVS did is unconscionable. We’re not taking about treating something like a common cold. We’re taking about taking a product that will help people slow down the onset of blindness. And the fact that CVS is going to keep the product on the shelf until it sells out is shocking. Shame on CVS.

    Comment by HC — June 30, 2014 @ 8:30 am
  3. No question CVS screwed up. They should “man up” pull the item from the shelves, fix the problem, and look at their internal procedures that allowed “Mouse Print” to catch this before it was caught by their “internal” experts.

    Personally, I stopped using Eckerd/CVS years ago, but not for a reason this serious.

    Let’s hope the main-street press takes them to task publicly.

    Comment by Robert — June 30, 2014 @ 10:00 am
  4. Wayne,

    A well-balanced diet won’t give the necessary amounts.

    Comment by hc — June 30, 2014 @ 11:17 am
  5. Shame on CVS. Consumers deserve better. Frightening to think how little they care about a customer’s eyesight. I experienced a problem with the CVS Brand of moisturing Cream. This product was also claiming to be comparable to the Gold Bond Brand. The cream was not the same. The product seemed to dry out my skin. Of course that’s exactly the opposite result I’m expecting from a moisturizer. It was $1 cheaper….quality of product not worth a buck. I love all the Extra Buck Deals at CVS but will not be purchasing their comparable brands. Gayle

    Comment by Gayle — June 30, 2014 @ 11:38 am
  6. Maybe CVS is counting on their customers with AMD not being able to read much about the topic!

    Comment by spstanley — June 30, 2014 @ 2:58 pm
  7. This is problem with a whole mess load of Generic Medicine. I do not want comparable too I want an EXACT copy at a much lower cost.

    Comment by richard — June 30, 2014 @ 3:58 pm
  8. I just bought CVS replacement blades. The product packaging stated “Compares to Mach 3.” Apparently I didn’t split the compatible/comparable hair, because the blades were not designed to fit on the Gillette Mach 3.

    Comment by Mark Noldy — June 30, 2014 @ 5:44 pm
  9. I was surprised recently to find Walmart’s Equate brand of contact lens solution had different ingredients than the Opti-Free brand it’s label said to compare it to. Like others, I had been assuming store brand labeling saying “comparable to” meant the ingredients were identical, the product being less expensive due to not carrying the brand name.

    Comment by Bob R — July 7, 2014 @ 11:37 am
  10. Any time I think about buying a store brand I pick up BOTH STORE AND ORIGINAL PRODUCTS AND COMPARE LABELS.

    If you trust any store to care more about you than the money than you are a fool.

    Corporate America only cares about $$$ not people and to the person who wants an exact copy of a product at a lower price I say why when a company spends millions and millions to develop a product, test it, then ask for FDA approval why should you not expect to pay for it.

    If you come out with a product that took you years to develop and $25 million to make and market, and in a few years I just copy your product and sell it for half price would you be happy ?

    Comment by Tom b — July 10, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

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