Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

GNC, Vitamin Shoppe Keep DMAA Products in Stores


Ten days after the FDA sent warning lettersto manufacturers of supplements with DMAAin it, the nation’s largest supplement retailers still have the product on the shelves.

Both GNC and Vitamin Shoppe continued to sell the popular pre-workout like OxyElite Pro and Jack3d in its online and physical stores as of Tuesday morning.

Vitamin Shoppe CEO Tony Truesdale told analysts on a conference call that he didn’t see the category as an area that could have a material impact on the company’s business. Truesdale pointed out that the company has 8,000 different product offerings and believes it’s diversified to make it through a possible government shutdown of the ingredient.

“We believe we’ll get through this depending on how the FDA rules,” said Truesdale, who mentioned that the company would obviously comply if the FDA decided to order a recall of the products.

Truesdale would not specify exactly what percentage of the company’s business comes from products with DMAA in it, saying the company has never broken out those numbers.

Shares of Vitamin Shoppe were up 13 percent at 11:40 am ET, believed to be linked in part to the market’s confidence in the company’s position. (Click here to get the real-time quote)

Although companies have insisted that DMAA is a product that exists in nature (from the geranium plant), the FDA has challenged that assertion. Since DMAA wasn’t previously approved as a supplement, it would technically be considered a drug and therefore be subjected to more stringent oversight. Dietary supplements do not have to be approved before hitting the market. Those that are considered drugs cannot be sold before receiving FDA approval.

While the FDA said in its warning letters that the safety record of DMAA is not clear, Vitamin Shoppe and GNC seem to be making the bet that DMAA is in fact safe. The two retailers could potentially get their money back from the manufacturers, but if DMAA is proven to be dangerous, the companies would still have legal exposure.

GNC is currently the defendant in a lawsuit brought by a woman who says she bought a DMAA product in one of its stores and the US military pulled 18 DMAA-based productsfrom GNC stores on military bases after the ingredient was found in two soldiers who died from heart attacks.

“Since the military raised questions about the safety of DMAA, we reviewed our adverse events reports, had Cantox, the independent toxicology lab, do a study on the safety of the products, reviewed published peer-reviewed studies, and requested any and all safety information from the military,” said Jerry Stubenhofer, senior vice president and chief legal officer for GNC, told CNBC last week, in its only comment. “We have pursued and have not been able to find any evidence that DMAA is a safety issue,” Stubenhofer said. “Consumer safety is paramount to GNC and we would not be selling this product if we had any indication it was unsafe.”

But not everyone agrees, including Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard who told CNBC last week that “this pharmaceutical chemical has absolutely no place in the supplement world. We’ve seen six years of inappropriate sales for something that should not have been there in the first place.”

Cohen published a research letteron the subject on Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, urging the FDA to recall DMAA products. Cohen says he has treated patients who have taken these supplements and he believes it is more potent than ephedra, which was banned by the FDA in 2004.

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