While the Acai berry has been used as a staple of the Brazilian diet for years, only recently has it been portrayed as a dietary supplement to consumers worldwide. The media coverage of this dark purple berry has skyrocketed in 2009, with coverage by major celebrities like Oprah and Dr. Perricone discussing the benefits of the so-called “superfood”. It seemed that the other “superfoods” like barley, sprouts and yogurt were no match for the one-word berry and its aura of mystique.
With the increasing popularity and the statement of scarcity on Oprah.com that “Although acai may not be available in your local supermarket, you can find it in several health food and gourmet stores (often in juice form)” there was an opening for unscrupulous marketers to exploit the public’s desire for the juicy benefits. Marketers began using the Oprah name, logo and images to endorse their particular brands of Acai berry, with the actual offers being entirely deceptive and often including a negative option billing model.
Finding that consumers are often put off by large purchases, the marketers offer a “free sample” with an insignificant shipping charge, typically only a dollar or two. The purpose of the shipping charge is simply to gather the credit card information and enter the unsuspecting customer into a contract for additional charges on a monthly schedule. The charges are usually applied within days of the order – much sooner than the customer could have received the sample – and often amount to $80 US or more. The victim is unable to contact the company for a refund, and by the time they inform their credit card company to stop any future charges they have already been robbed of hundreds of dollars.
With signups taking place in ever-increasing amounts, the Acai berry scams have evolved into big business. An estimated 108 million dollar per year industry has popped up, and along with all that attention many lawsuits are now underway. In August of this year, Oprah and Dr. Oz sued over 50 marketers for defamation of brand and claims related to the Acai berry. On top of this, the Federal Trade Commission has recently become involved in investigating the claims of websites, due in large part to the prevalence of Acai berry scams.
As if the negative option billing, false celebrity endorsements and lawsuits weren’t enough, it turns out there is very little in the way of health benefits that the Acai berry offers. One of the primary claims that Acai marketers make is that they are abnormally high in antioxidants. As it turns out, many existing fruits readily available in your local supermarket, including blueberries and concord grapes, have much higher levels of antioxidants. There is also no evidence to suggest that antioxidants have any relationship to weight loss, yet still companies such as MonaVie have come to thrive on these false claims regarding Acai health benefits.
When it comes to your health and your wallet, avoid any product which makes miraculous claims about weight loss at a price that seems too good to be true. Stick to purchasing health supplements at a local store, where you can ask questions and return the product if you are not satisfied.
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