Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service. Got an idea for a question? Email Checkout editor Morgan Bast at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The question: Do you have any natural remedies for the flu?
STORE: Central U.S.-based natural products chain store
NFM: Do you have any natural remedies for the flu?
Store employee: Yep. Is it for you?
NFM: No, it’s for my husband.
Store: Oh. Does he already have the flu or is it just like the first day?
NFM: It’s kind of just starting.
Store: This one is the best. (He points to a brand.) This one has little vials of sugar granules that you take every six hours … . (He goes on to explain benefits of two different products and how to take them.) It’s better if you can prevent the flu. Would he be willing to take a liquid extract?
NFM: Yeah, probably. So would this one get rid of it if it’s past the point of prevention?
Store: Yeah. When you take this one, take the dose and let it dissolve … (He gives more explanation on how to take it.)
Comment: While the employee was knowledgeable about the store’s inventory of products and he offered helpful advice on how to take them, he didn’t adhere to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
In an effort to prevent false advertising, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission are cracking down on supplement product labelers and marketers claiming to have flu and cold prevention and cures. Susan Brienza of Patton Boggs, a Washington, D.C–based law firm, says these regulations may be applied to retailers as well. “So if somebody comes in and asks, ‘Do you have any natural remedies for the flu?’ the answer is, ‘No, those aren’t possible,’” Brienza says.
According to the New Hope Standards Department, what retailers can say when referring to remedies is that symptom-specific relief is possible. For example, you can point to a product and explain how it could clear up a runny nose or reduce coughing.