Where celebrity-fueled supplements keep going wrong

Ladder, an emerging subscription supplement brand that boasts Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James as its founders, promises personalization and transparency–but delivers little of both. We're not surprised.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

November 28, 2018

3 Min Read

It’d be nice to say the latest celebrity supplement brand, launched today with a marquee roster that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James, might live up to its promises of transparency and “personalization,” but those promises wilt under even a glancing inspection.

The brand, Ladder, comes with a backstory about Schwarzenegger and James coming together to produce a quality line that is better matched to individuals' goals as opposed to the “huge cans of protein” Schwarzenegger decries in an interview with Men’s Health. Ladder also promises improved clarification about the ingredients; the action star’s complaints about the supplement industry at large include “You don’t know exactly what is in it.”

Transparency and personalization are worthy goals for any supplement company, but Ladder’s subscription-focused website offers little more than lip service.

The quiz that is meant to deliver “customized” plans is all of six questions long, and one of those questions is “What’s your email address?” We’ve answered more questions whilst ordering a burrito. It took 20 seconds to fill out the quiz. Granted, Ladder only sells three products—protein, energy and greens powders—but the assessment at Persona Nutrition, the re-branded Vitamin Packs subscription, takes “3 to 5 minutes” and gets reviewed by a nutritionist

Related:The Goop effect: Celebrity supplement brands garner unwarranted, unwanted attention

The transparency claim is also easily dismissed. Within the “Frequently Asked Questions” is “Where are Ladder products made?” and the answer is a less than confidence-inspiring “a world-class facility in New Jersey.” We’d applaud them for the NSF certification but it hardly answers all the questions Schwarzenegger raises about these products' identities and integrity.

None of this means that Ladder's products are bad or that the service's personalized recommendations are egregiously wrong, but big promises with slight offerings are a problem across the supplements industry that gets inevitably compounded when a high-profile celebrity is added into the formulation.

There is no reason this can’t be done right. Personalized nutrition brands with far better scientific evidence and access, including Persona and Inside Tracker, are getting millions in investment from major investors and ingredient companies that know the supplement space well.

A better offering with better transparency that included celebrities as the icing rather than the foundation could do a lot of good for the personalized nutrition sector.

Instead, we get Schwarzenegger, James and Cindy Crawford talking about individualizing “programs” that don’t even qualify as personalization lite.

Then there's the expense. When we took the quiz, the customized nutrition plan it kicked out came out to a total of $98 a month for 30 servings of whey protein and 15 energy “packets.”

That equals out to $2 per 26-gram protein serving–substantially more than most whey proteins, including brands bearing NSF certification.

We criticized the negative attention celebrities bring to supplements earlier this month, after another round of headlines about Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Goop” line. Ladder comes nowhere near that level of questionable claims or behavior. It is, instead, a missed opportunity.

There’s plenty of room for a celebrity to get personalized nutrition supplements right, not to mention that the category genuinely could use the boost. This effort just wasn’t it.


Rick Polito is the editor in chief of the Nutrition Business Journal. The NBJ is currently offering End-of-the-Year Sale discounts. For information on purchasing subscriptions, market reports and data charts go to www.nutritionbusinessjournal.com or contact NBJ Business Development Manager Cindy Van Schouwen at  [email protected] (303) 998-9305


About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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