Updated 1:52 PM EST, Friday March 8, 2024 with comment from Vireo Systems, the parent company of CON-CRĒT

Updated 8:58 AM EST, Wednesday March 13, 2024 with comment NOW

Bloomingdale, IL—In 2017, NOW has been conducting an industry self-policing program, testing unfamiliar brands found on Amazon in an effort to identify and address low-quality products in the marketplace. The company has expanded its efforts to include testing products sold on Walmart.com, due to the platform’s increasing market share. Testing focuses on in-demand ingredients, such as berberine.

In its latest round of testing, NOW focused on creatine gummies, as there is a disconnect between claimed dosage and technical capabilities with some brands. NOW reported that its concerns elevated when, following the testing program's usual practice of simultaneous testing by a respected outside lab, none of the outside labs NOW has vetted and approved are capable of testing gummies.

About creatine

Creatine is a compound produced in the body, and is said to help give muscles short-term energy. NOW pointed to the supplement's popularity: SPINS reported 52% year-on-year sales volume growth. NOW also explained that creatine dosages around 5 grams (5,000 mg) are frequently recommended

NOW's testing of creatine gummies

The brands involved in NOW's testing made label claims between 750 mg and 5,000 mg per serving. The number of gummies per serving varied between 1 and 5 gummies; grams of creatine claimed per gummy were between 250 mg and 1,700 mg. Brands included in the testing: Astro Labs, Bear Balanced, Beast Bites, Bod, Create, Create, Con-cret, Effective Nutra, Greabby, Iron Labs Nutrition, Njord, Peach Perfect, and Zhou. 

NOW purchased the brands for this round of product testing either on Amazon or directly from the brands. Creatine content in the gummies were tested using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Creatine quantitation was performed using a creatine reference standard of a known concentration.

The results, provided by NOW:NOW_Creatine_Testing.png

Brands that met label claims in NOW's testing:

  • Bear Balance
  • Bod
  • Effective Nutra
  • Iron Labs Nutrition
  • Peach Perfect
  • Zhou

Brands that failed to meet label claims in NOW's testing:

  • Astro Labs
  • Beast Bites
  • Create
  • Con-Cret (see comment from the company below)
  • Greabby
  • Njord

Overall, there was a 46% failure rate to meet claims.

  • The NOW testing team observed that the bear-shaped products (samples 1, 8 & 10) have slightly different colors and potency, but they seem to be made by the same supplier.
  • Samples 4, 7 & 11 tested above the label claim and seem to be made by a single supplier.

Gummy brands testing below label claim were also tested for creatinine using HPLC, NOW added. Several creatine gummies were found to contain significant amounts of this unwanted creatine metabolite, while also not meeting their claimed creatine strength.  

NOW explained that creatinine is a waste product that naturally builds up in blood when muscles are exercised. "Bodies produce creatinine at a constant rate, and kidneys usually eliminate almost all of it," the company explained, adding: "Having very high or low creatinine levels can be a health concern; creatinine supplements are not recommended. Creatine in powder form is stable, but when mixed with water can turn into creatinine. Gummies are not an ideal form for creatine supplements because water is used to make gummies, so it can be difficult to get the correct dosage of creatine."

NOW also reported: Astro Labs, Greabby, and Njord had a small amount of creatinine detected, while Beast Bites, Create, and Con-Cret had large amounts of creatinine present. Taking the creatine and creatinine data together shows that Astro Labs, Greabby, and Njord likely had a minimal amount of creatine, almost all of which converted to creatinine. Beast Bites and Con-Cret likely had a larger amount of creatine that mostly turned into creatinine. Create, which came close to meeting the label claim, had a nearly good amount of creatine that was partially turned into creatinine. However, even combined creatinine and creatine test results failed to add up to creatine claims for this group of products, so these formulations with low creatine test results versus label claims apparently failed to add sufficient creatine.

NOW said that, apparently it has one of the few industry labs that can test gummies accurately. “We were surprised that none of the third-party labs we typically use, which we consider the best, said they were able to test these gummies,” said NOW Senior Director of Quality Katie Banaszewski. “Given the rapid growth of that delivery system and the regulatory requirement to confirm label compliance, the industry needs to find a solution to this dearth of testing capacity.” 

Con-Cret says the results are inaccurate

Vireo Systems, the parent company of CON-CRĒT, reached out to WholeFoods Magazine after the initial publication of NOW's findings related to CON-CRĒT Creatine HCl Gummies. The company said: Vireo Systems, the parent company of CON-CRĒT, has established testing protocols and worked with multiple accredited labs while developing CON-CRĒT Creatine HCl Gummies. The company has tested its gummy in at least two trials using an independent, ISO/IEC 17025:2017-accredited laboratory, and the trials demonstrate that the creatine HCl content in the gummy was well above the 250 mg creatine HCl per 4 g label claim.Additionally, CVS Caremark put the Gummies through an extensive testing program to ensure product integrity before accepting them for sale on their retail drug shelves.  

According to its press release, NOW admits that its testing and conclusions are based solely on internal testing rather than a third-party accredited laboratory. Also, the methodology, sample prep, and molecular profiling for creatine hydrochloride differs from that for creatine monohydrate, and it is unclear if NOW considered this in their testing.

NOW responds; calls for continued conversation on the topic of testing methods for gummies

In response to Vireo Systems, NOW's Banaszewski told WholeFoods Magazine: "NOW tested a single lot, which did not pass the label claim. The method we used for analysis, HPLC, doesn’t distinguish between forms, it just identifies creatine. Although the reported results may differ slightly due to HCl having a slightly larger molecular weight than water, this would not significantly alter the results. Therefore, this would not be the difference between a passing or failing result.  

"If Vireo has identified a testing lab that has ISO 1075 accreditation specifically for testing creatine gummies so that accreditation is relevant to this case, we hope they will tell the industry who they are. Those contract labs NOW views as the industry's most competent apparently do not have validated testing methods for gummies. This raises the question that perhaps the fastest-growing dosage form has gotten ahead of itself. If Vireo would like to contribute their expertise to an industry initiative to bring gummy testing to the standards to which they should be held, we would welcome working with them."

Previous testing by NOW has been conducted on brands that sell:

NOW also has reported multiple supplements sold on Amazon impersonating the NOW brand, as well as another prominent industry supplement brand.

How can natural products retailers can help?

NOW generally does not test health food store brands or practitioner brands, as the company says quality issues do not seem to be a major issue with those brands. In 2022, WholeFoods Magazine  recognized NOW and other industry leaders for such efforts, naming the  Person of the Year: The Amazon.com Quality Activists. Dan Richard, VP of Global Sales and Marketing, NOW Health Group told WholeFoods“Stores can publish NOW’s results to let consumers know ‘buyer beware.' They can share some of the many articles published about our testing programs in their newsletters or on social media. The low prices online are sometimes too good to be true. Local stores have many advantages that online stores can’t offer including service, in-person experience, sampling, and more. It’s not easy these days for any business, but many natural retailers still succeed by finding a worthwhile niche, providing quality health products and at a reasonable price."

Related: NOW Testing of Berberine Products Purchased on Amazon and Walmart.com Reveals Serious Quality Problems From “No Name” Brands

NOW Testing of Astaxanthin Purchased on Amazon.com, Walmart.com Confirms "Significant" Quality Failings