Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Lesson in Disclosing Nutritional Supplement Product Ingredients (and Treating Customers Right)...

I recently purchased a product from BlueGreenFoods.com, called Stem Cell Activator. It cost me nearly $50, including shipping. But since the advertising was so slick, I thought I'd try it.

When I received the product, I discovered in the list of ingredients that it contains little more than blue green algae and a number of so-called "beneficial microorganisms," including Bacillus subtilis.

Now the Bacillus subtilis is a live bacteria that some people include as an ingredient in probiotic nutritional supplements, apparently because they believe it is a highly beneficial microorganism. But I don't believe that. Based upon some of the research I've seen over the years, I believe it is potentially harmful for some people. In some cases, it appears to be potentially infectious for some people.

Therefore, a long time ago I decided not to use any nutritional supplement containing Bacillus subtilis. And since my opinion is really all that counts when it comes to which foods or supplements I put into my own body, I decided not to use the Stem Cell Activator product I'd received from BlueGreenFoods.com.

After all, when I had first ordered the product, nowhere on their web site did I see this ingredient "Bacillus subtilis" listed by name. (Since then, I've searched the web site again, using their own search engine, and still cannot find this ingredient listed by name.)

So after recieving the product and discovering the Bacillus subtilis ingredient on the label, I went to the company web site to see how to return the unopened product and obtain a refund. I had remembered seeing the phrase "100% Guarantee" featured prominently on their web site, and was therefore hopeful I could get my money back by returning the product unused and unopened.

Unfortunately, as I discovered when I returned to the web site home page, what it actually says in a sidebar under the subhead "Guarantees" is this: "100% Quality Guarantee." Then, when you click on those words, nothing happens. It doesn't take you anywhere. There is no link to information about this guarantee. And after searching through page after page of the web site, I could find no other information about their guarantee policy.

So I called the company and got an answering machine. I left a message explaining that I had received their product and would like to return it for a refund. Later that day I got an email that simply read:

"vm message received - will respond after holiday weekend. Thanks."

After the holiday weekend passed, I still received no contact from them. So I called again.

This time a man answered. Rather than identify himself, he simply asked what I wanted. I was a bit flustered by his brusk attitude and lack of phone decorum, but managed to explain breifly that I had ordered their Stem Cell Activator product and would like information on how to return it unopened for a refund of my purchase price because I saw it contains Bacillus subtilis, an ingredient I have a personal policy of not ingesting.

Rather than respond to my request for information on how to return the product, the man launched into a prolonged speech about how wonderful and beneficial the Stem Cell Activator product is. Since he was merely repeating what I'd already read on the company's web site, I cut in and politely told him that regardless of how good he believes his product to be, I would not be able to take it since I have a personal policy of never ingesting Bacillus subtilis. I stated that I would never have ordered the product in the first place had their web site explained that it contained Bacillus subtilis. And I stated that I was calling only to find out how to return the unopened product and obtain a refund.

The man then became very perturbed, and began to lecture me on phone courtesy, claiming that he "could not talk to me" if I wasn't going to allow him to "educate me" as to why I was wrong about wanting a refund on his product. I tried to explain once again that I wasn't calling for another sales pitch, but simply trying to obtain a refund. I stated that I was not denigrating his product, but merely asking for a refund since it contains an ingredient I have a policy of not ingesting.

He then hung the phone up on me, which I thought was rather odd, considering the fact that the company web site says, "We are commited to proving world class support to our valued customers."

If that was "world class" support, I'd hate to see what crappy support consists of.

Ten or fifteen minutes later I received the following email from the company:

Dear Steve,

You just spoke to me. I could not seem to speak to you due to your interference.

This is our policy: http://www.bluegreenfoods.com/return-policy.html

There is nothing wrong with our product! It detoxes your body not harms it.

You should try it to maximize your health.



Bluegreen Foods Support Group

So I went to the link supplied in his email, and found their return policy -- a web page consisting of over 20 mind-numbing paragraphs of tiny type explaining their policy in minute, if not convoluted detail. The web page concludes with 10 rules you have to follow in order to return a product and obtain a refund, which apparently, is only a partial refund as they refuse to return your shipping and handling charges, they deduct from the purchase price any shipping and handling discounts you received, and they deduct an additional 15% re-stocking fee.

No wonder they hide their return policy!

I continued searching their web site and discovered that the only way online customers can access the web page with the return policy, apparently, is through a barely noticeable "Terms" link hidden at the very bottom of their web pages, next to the site map link. You have to click on the terms link and read through some 20 paragraphs of tiny type in order to find another barely noticeable link that says, "Click Here to read our return policy and submit your RMA request."


Finally, I sent an email reply to the above email from "Rob," stating:


I don't want to try the product. It contains Bacillus subtilis. I don't use products containing Bacillus subtilis. It's that simple.

There's no need for you to launch into a speech about how great Bacillus subtilis is, or how many other people use it, because I don't eat it...period.

I had no idea you put that particular ingredient into your product. It is not mentioned by name on your web site. Had I known your product contained Bacillus subtilis, I'd have never ordered the product. Again, it's that simple.

I'm not denigrating your product. I'm just stating a simple fact: By choice, I don't use products containing Bacillus subtilis as an ingredient. And since the product you sold me contains Bacillus subtilis, I'd like to return it unopened for a refund.

What I called to ask for, and what I'm asking you for again, right now, is a return authorization number and instructions on where to return the unopened product for a refund of the purchase price.


Steve Barwick

And ten or fifteen minutes later I received another email response from the company, which read:


Just a note to thank you for your interest in Bluegreen Foods products, and to let you know we have received your message. One of our representatives will respond to you within 24 hours.

In Good Health,

Bluegreen Foods Support Group

Surprisingly, this one came from the following email address: wecare@bluegreenfoods.com

"We care." Uh, huh. I'm still laughing.

-- Spencer

7-15-2010 UPDATE:

After several more back-and-forths with the company by phone and email over a period of several more days, they finally broke down and refunded my credit card for the amount of purchase, and I have shipped the product back to them, unopened.

How much more respect would I have had for this company, had they simply stated, the first time I called, that there was no problem in getting a refund?

They could have said, "We appreciate your interest in our product and we're sorry you find one of the ingredients objectionable. While we've carefully researched your objection to this ingredient and disagree with the conclusions you've drawn (and will be happy to furnish you with more information should you want it), we nevertheless want you to know that we'll cheerfully refund your money upon your return of the product."

But instead, they put me through the unconscionable contortions described earlier in this article.

Two lessons apply here:

One, the very best sales policy for ingestible or topical nutritional supplement products (or any product, actually) is full disclosure of all ingredients.

Why? Because some people are sensitive to certain ingredients. Others might have religious objections to a certain ingredient or ingredients (I won't use any product that contains pork, shellfish or mushrooms, for example). Others simply might not like a certain ingredient even though there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Regardless of the reason, failing to disclose the ingredients in a forthright manner in the product advertising can only serve to engender distrust and animosity in the customer when he receives the product and discovers that it contains an ingredient or ingredients he finds objectionable. In other words, it's just plain bad business to fail to disclose your product's ingredients.

The customer would not have purchased the product had he been fully informed of its ingredients. Therefore, he will automatically assume that the company's sales team chose not to disclose ingredients because they were afraid of losing sales over it. This may or may not be true of the company. But it is nevertheless what the customer will assume. They will feel tricked into buying the product.

The simple solution is to fully disclose all ingredients in the product advertising. Allow those who object to a certain ingredient, for whatever reason, right or wrong, to know about it upfront so they can make a purchasing decision they feel is in their best interest.

Companies selling nutritional supplements simply don't need the hassle of dealing with customers who might find one or more of their product's ingredients objectionable, after receiving the product. So why hide the information from them in your product advertising? There will always be customers who are perfectly happy with your ingredient list. Those are the customers you want.

Secondly, when a customer who has ordered and received a product from a company calls to say they don't want it, the company's sales representative should never launch into a long diatribe explaining why they're making a poor decision. Even if you're absolutely right, the customer will always feel that you're attempting to browbeat him into keeping and using a product he doesn't want. And like it or not, you will lose that customer...forever.

Not only that, you'll have made an enemy of that customer, forever. You may get to keep the customer's lousy thirty, or forty or fifty bucks by intimidating or otherwise hustling them into keeping a product containing an unwanted ingredient, but for the rest of their lives that customer will a.) never order from your company again, b.) never again think of your company in a positive light, c.) always speak negatively of your company to others, whether in person-to-person communications, or in internet forums.

There is an old marketing maxim that states, "If you treat a customer good, he will recommend you to at least three friends. If you treat a customer badly, he will bad mouth you to at least ten friends." That is NOT the kind of word-of-mouth publicity you want in a marketplace in which the competition is cutthroat, and customers have so many other choices they can turn to if you burn them.

That is especially true of the nutritioanal supplement marketplace.


I recently ordered two different product from a Facebook friend who owns a company specializing in Aloe Vera products. One was an ingestible Aloe Vera product, and one was a topical Aloe Vera gel product.

The topical Aloe Vera gel contained a controversial ingredient called Butylene Glycol, which some health enthusiasts claim is completely harmless in the amounts found in topical skin care products, and others claim should never be used in topical skin care products in any amount due to its potential side effects on people who may be overly sensitive to it.

Here's what I wrote to the company after receiving the products and finding the offending ingredient in the gel:

I recieved the shipment of the Aloe Vera juice and Aloe Pure Gel I ordered. But I was very surprised to see the second main ingredient in the Aloe Pure Gel being Butylene Glycol, which is basically a chemical related to anti-freeze.

There seems to be quite a controversy over this ingredient, with many natural health enthusiasts eschewing it (see for example http://www.beautynewsla.com/natural-living/but-but%E2%80%A6butylene-glycol-does-what/).

Since there are any number of all-natural substitutes that could easily be used in place of this ingredient, I'm wondering why they used it?

I'm not sure I want to put the stuff on my skin. Disappointed to see it in the product.

Here's how the company responded to my inquiry:

Hello Spencer, I understand your concern about Butylene glycol...I too had the same feelings about it some time ago...but after talking with several chemist and formulators a few years back...I formed a different view. Butylene glycols chemistry is different than the Ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) and propylene glycol...and was assured it was safe as a topical ingredient in cosmetics and can even be ingested...that is, when formulated correctly.

However, I will gather more information (tomorrow) from our formulators and forward the data to you as soon as I receive it.

You can then make your decision with the Aloe gel....then, if for any reason you don't want it...I'll make arrangements for you to ship the product back and I'll refund your purchase....no problem.

Thanks Spencer and have a great day.

Ahhh...short, simple and to the point. Immediate reassurance that I can get my money back if I find the ingredient objectionable. I will do business with this company again, in the future.

Nevertheless, I will still write this company again and urge them to disclose all label ingredients in their company advertising. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. If they are confident the ingredients are safe and effective, they should disclose those ingredients publicly and fully. Failure to do so implies a company knows they have something to hide. A company should not want customers to feel duped into buying their product by the failure to disclose a potentially objectionable ingredient.

The bottom line is that people are far more knowledgeable about product ingredients today than they've ever been. This is of course largely thanks to the internet, which -- for good or for bad -- has given people near instantaneous access to unprecedented amounts of information.

Knowing that, a company should practice full disclosure in regards to product ingredients. A company's sales team should never refrain from disclosure, in the vain hopes that it will add a few extra sales to the company's bottom line. It only takes a handful of customers who feel duped and betrayed to cause a nutritional supplement company the loss of thousands upon thousands of dollars in sales.

Customers who feel duped and betrayed will not only never buy from you again, but the likelihood is, they will put the word out on your company for months or even years into the future, whether through an internet forum, or through friend-to-friend word-of-mouth contact, or whatever.

These are simple truths every nutritional supplement company should understand, and act upon.


  1. Hey Spencer...everything you just wrote in your blog I agree 100%...you're right on the money.

    Just received the data about the ingredient in the product "Aloe Gel" today...will get it to you tonight or tomorrow...

    Thanks again, Doak.
    PS-will see you on FaceBook.

  2. Hi, Steve
    Would you have have any more information of the potential danger of bacillus subtilis?

    THank you very much,

  3. Here's a few links, Vera:

    Study: Bacillus subtillis infection

    Study: Recurrent Septicemia Due to Bacillus Subtillus Infection

    In most of the older research I saw years ago in which cancer patient were taking Bacillus subtillis because they believed it would help clear their bodies of a "cancer microbe", the individuals taking the bacillus subtillis supplement reported fairly dramatic weight gain of a minimum of 10-20 pounds within several months of beginning to take the supplement.

    Apparently, at least in some people, the microbe causes the body to begin retaining water. This is a clear sign the body considers the microbe an infectious microorganism.

    This is exactly what happened to me thirteen or fourteen years ago. For about a month I used a probiotic product consisting of bacillus subtillis. And by the end of that month I was gaining water weight. Even after stopping the use of the probiotic product, I continued to gain water weight. I ended up packing on 30 pounds before it stopped, and have not been able to lose it. I later found out Bacillus subtillis is almost impossible to kill off once it's inhabiting the human body in large numbers. What's more, it voraciously feasts on all of your other digestive bacteria, both good and bad. So regular supplementation with beneficial digestive microbes the body depends upon, like lactobacillus, becomes critical.

    I am not against anyone using this particular microorganism as a digestive supplement if they want to. I just personally don't ever want to use it again.

    I have a friend in the nutritional supplement industry who also began using it. He's a body builder who prides himself on not having an ounce of fat on his body. He called and asked if I knew anything about bacillus subtilis. I told him my story, and he kinda chuckled and half-jokingly said I should cut out all of those rootbeer floats at night before bed. But two months later when he called me back, he was singing a different tune. He had started using the bacillus subtilis product, and now could no longer fit into his regular jeans. He said he wished he'd have listened to me, but other people had told him the bacillus subtilis was perfectly harmless. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. But I'll definitely never use it again.