Supermarket giant Tesco has announced the closure of its NutriCentre business – the in-store health and wellbeing chain we previously criticised for peddling quackery.
Earlier this year, NutriCentre MD Jessica Frame admitted that the business had become beset with structural and distribution problems. She also acknowledged that NutriCentre needed to address regulatory compliance issues with a number of brands. Many ranges were pulled from the shelves due to potential compliance issues.
Although we cannot be certain what impact skeptics have had, it is clear that NutriCentre had been under pressure from regulators. It is likely that our complaints played a role in this.
Following our initial investigation, we reported fourteen supplements sold by NutriCentre to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), raising concerns that the products appeared to be unlicensed medicines, posing a risk to the public. The MHRA assured us that they were investigating the sale of those products. All of the products in question have since been discontinued.
We also notified the MHRA of point of sale advertising for Nelsons homeopathic products, which contravened medicines regulations and had already been removed from Boots and Holland & Barrett. This was subsequently removed from stores.
We also reported NutriCentre to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), in relation to unauthorised health claims made in the advertising of various food supplements. Our complaint was informally resolved after the claims we had highlighted were removed. Despite this outcome, NutriCentre has continued to struggle with advertising compliance. Thanks to the Nightingale Collaboration and others, the NutriCentre Twitter account is regularly challenged for making problematic health and nutrition claims in the promotion of supplements.
It was clear by February, when NutriCentre announced a “range reset”, that they were struggling under pressure from regulators.
Head of Product, Gervase Fay, said: “Compliance in this sector is really hard. But we want to be a trusted destination and be fully compliant. So, we’ve removed brands where we’ve had to. But we’re also working with brands to help them be compliant.”
Yesterday’s decision by Tesco will reduce the amount of unproven (and sometimes potentially harmful) health products on the high street, and it will have a significant impact on the alternative health industry more generally. Many specialist nutrition brands now face the prospect of a significant loss of income from the closure of NutriCentre. One brand owner said Tesco’s withdrawal from specialist nutrition and retail would add to a “challenging climate” for brands.
We welcome Tesco’s decision to move its investment and employees away from NutriCentre and towards more mainstream retail. We also hope that the independent retailers and the specialist nutrition brands will learn from this. Regulatory compliance is still a big problem within the sector. While companies continue to sell dubious products and to make dubious claims, we will continue to report them to regulators.