Private Label Supplements: Read this Before You Fall Into the Trap

Authored by Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC

Private Label Supplements: Same Formulas Sold by Different Brands

Private label supplements are quite popular these days, though most consumers aren’t aware of private labeling and how it works. Due to the inexplicit nature of private label supplements, a keen insight into how private labeling works is essential for deciphering which products contain a private label formula and which contain a unique custom formula. 

So, how does private labeling work? What are the pro and cons of private label supplements? Read on to learn more about private labeling and how it impacts businesses and consumers alike.

What is Private Labeling?

At its essence, private labeling is a product development tactic that companies may use to create their "own products" with a mass-produced generic formula by a contract manufacturer. Private labeling is quite common in sports supplements and personal care products. 

But why do companies use private label formulas instead of their own custom formulas? Well, there are several reasons that supplement companies might choose the private label process. 

For one, private label supplements are lower-cost alternatives than custom formulas. A private label manufacturer has much more flexibility when working with a limited range of stock products, which ultimately reduces production costs and mitigates supply-chain issues.

In addition, a start-up supplement company can get their foot in the door, so to speak, with significantly less "risk" since contract manufacturing a private label product requires a low minimum order quantity compared to a custom formula. It's a win-win for the private label manufacturer and supplement company.

For customers, it's not so great; private label supplements are generally not quality products, nor are they made with premium raw materials.

Think of it like this: private label manufacturers bulk produce a handful of stock formulas that they then “flip” to various brands that turn around and sell seemingly unique products. (Of course, that's the opposite of what private label products truly are.)

Consequently, private label brands often have identical "house" formulas in their nutritional supplements (e.g. pre-workout powders, protein powders, and vitamins). It's the same practice used by grocers that private label brand-name foods. Kirkland Signature, a private label brand of Sam's Club, is one example.

The catch is that, contrary to grocers and retailers, supplement companies have fairly loose guidelines for product labeling. And here's why that's a problem for consumers...

Proprietary Blends and Private Label Products

Private label supplements become nearly impossible to distinguish from custom-made formulas when they involve proprietary blends. What the heck is a proprietary blend, you ask?

In short, a proprietary blend is a mixture of ingredients in undisclosed quantities. For example, many pre-workout supplements feature proprietary blends under the guise of a clever name on the ingredient panel, like “Mental Performance Blend” or “Blood Flow Augmentation Blend”. 

If you look closely under the name of the proprietary blend, there are usually tens of ingredients listed with no specified dosages. Hence, the proprietary nature of these blends. 

However, proprietary blends must disclose one quantity - the total amount of the entire blend. But that’s all the information you get, making it impossible to discern doses of each ingredient. The only thing you can ascertain is their relative abundance in the proprietary blend since the Food and Drug Administration requires ingredients to be listed in descending order, from greatest to least amounts.

Thus, if you see caffeine listed as the first ingredient and green tea extract listed as the last ingredient in a proprietary blend, the former has the highest dose of all the ingredients in the blend, and the latter has the lowest dose. Alas, that still doesn’t tell you much about the exact amounts, which is where third-party lab tests can come in handy.

Third-Party Lab Testing of Nutritional Supplements

Consider the hypothetical case in which a private label supplement features a proprietary blend containing ten different ingredients at a cumulative dose of 5,000 mg. The first ingredient in the blend may make up 99% of that 5,000 mg; the rest are essentially “sprinkled in” at negligible doses — a deceptive tactic called “label dressing” since the amounts of individual ingredients are so low as to be worthless. 

The "advantage" of proprietary blends is that it hides the precise formula from competitor brands, making it harder for them to copy another brand's formula. Yet, that also lends itself to the major disadvantage of hiding the formula from consumers.

Private label supplements that feature proprietary blends are about as secretive as it gets. This is all the more reason to avoid a private label brand in the realm of dietary supplements. Alternatively, you can send your supplements to a third-party lab for testing, but it will come at a significant cost.

The good news is that all Transparent Labs supplements are free from private labeling and go through batch testing to assure ourselves and you, the consumer, that the ingredients on each product label are genuine and dosed appropriately. Importantly, it also tells us there’s nothing in the product that shouldn’t be. 

You can find a live database of all Transparent Labs third-party lab test results on the following pages:

The Future of Private Label Brands

Sadly, private label supplements are here to stay and will continue to dominate the shelves of online and offline supplement retailers due to their appealing price points. Virtually anyone can start their “own” supplement line without much requisite experience or knowledge pertaining to human health and athletic performance. Consumers must scrutinize supplement ingredient panels and understand the terminology. 

Everybody wins if supplement brands are open and honest about the quality and content of their products (and regularly get them tested by an independent third-party lab). At Transparent Labs, one of our goals is to help supplement enthusiasts like yourself avoid the common pitfall of spending money on private label brands with the same recycled, watered-down formulas.

We build every one of our dietary supplements from the ground up, using quality ingredients in proper doses and full-disclosure labeling practices. You deserve to know what you're putting in your body when you buy health products, and that's why we've established ourselves as a brand of transparency and integrity.

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