The residue of coral calcium remains, six years after scandals erupted surrounding Bob Barefoot and the empty promises of a miracle compound that turned out to be little more than calcium carbonate and magnesium. Earlier this week, a federal appeals court in Boston upheld district court decisions from July 2008 and August 2009 against Donald Barrett, Robert Maihos and their two companies, Direct Marketing Concepts and ITV Direct. Barrett and his associates were fined $48 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive business practices and unsubstantiated health claims. In touting their Supreme Greens and Coral Calcium brand supplements in infomercials, Barrett et al made bold claims that their products could cure serious conditions ranging from cancer to Parkinson's disease.
In its ruling, the appellate court made little attempt to reserve judgment in voicing disdain for the defendants' behavior. First Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote: "Despite the volume of the defendants' arguments, we find no more substance in them than the district court found in their infomercials." The court went on to call the defendants' claims support as "woefully inadequate," and the monetary damages assessed as some means for the defendants to "cure their customers in a way that their bogus supplements could not."
NBJ bottom line: The coral calcium phenomenon created a dramatic spike in 2003 calcium sales that soon fell back to earth after its aggressive health claims proved fatuous and misleading. By 2004, sales returned to historic levels, but the bad taste of coral calcium remained. The malfeasance of figures like Barret and Barefoot created uncertainty in the supplement marketplace, damaged trust with consumers, and tainted the entire direct-to-consumer channel with heightened media scrutiny of some of industry's most unscrupulous players.
Coral calcium proved a short-term boon for suppliers, as category sales grew 19% in 2003, only to fall back 5% in 2004. Calcium is still the undisputed king of the mineral space with $1.2 billion in 2009 sales—representing 54% of the category—but it's surprising that only now will one episode in its checkered history be put to rest. Waiting in the wings? That pesky meta-analysis linking calcium to increased risk of heart attack.
NBJ provides in-depth coverage of mineral and supplement sales in our 2010 Supplement Business Report and our current issue on raw materials & ingredient supply. Both are now available through our website.
Related NBJ links: