Consumers that were targeted by TriVita Inc. as part of its cactus juice scam will be reimbursed approximately $3 million, the FTC has announced. As part of the reimbursement, the FTC is mailing approximately 500,000 checks to consumers who lost money to diet supplement marketers who made unsupported claims that their cactus-based fruit drink, Nopalea, would treat a variety of health problems.
Last year, as part of the FTC’s ongoing efforts to stop over-hyped health claims, the FTC settled charges with TriVita alleging that the company had used unsupported product claims to deceive consumers, including infomercials with testimonials from consumers who received a commission for selling its products.
According to the FTC’s complaint, TriVita markets 32-ounce bottles of the “prickly pear” fruit drink, derived from the Nopal cactus, for up to $39.99 plus shipping and handling. The FTC further alleged that the advertisements on the defendants’ websites tout “Inflammation Relief without a Prescription.” The defendants’ infomercials featuring celebrity endorser and former supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, market Nopalea as an “anti-inflammatory wellness drink” that relieves pain, reduces and relieves joint and muscle swelling, improves breathing and alleviates respiratory problems, and relieves skin conditions. TriVita’s former Chief Science Officer, Brazos Minshew, also appears in the infomercials and links inflammation to allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. He notes in one of the infomercials that “over 200 articles published and archived at the National Institutes of Health demonstrate one thing: the Nopal cactus will reduce inflammation.” The infomercials also feature testimonials by satisfied consumers who are actually paid employees of defendants, according to the complaint.
Under the terms of the settlement, TriVita is barred from making the health claims alleged in the complaint when marketing Nopalea or any food, drug, or dietary supplement without randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical tests conducted by qualified researchers; making any health claims without competent and reliable scientific evidence; misrepresenting that health benefits are clinically proven when they are not; and failing to disclose any material connection between endorsers of their products and themselves.
As is the case whenever the FTC issues refunds, the agency notes that those who receive them should deposit or cash them within 60 days, and to beware of fake settlement offers that require payment in order to get a refund. Restitution checks will vary in size depending on how much each consumer spent on the product. Those with questions about the settlement payments can call the administrator handling the disbursement, Gilardi & Co., at 888-289-0252.