Industry News | March 25, 2009

Beware 'The Bernie Madoff of the Food Business'

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Operators looking to stay on-trend with their menu items are being warned by the Connecticut attorney general and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to avoid Internet scams related to acai berry products.

Connecticut attorney General Richard Blumenthal began an investigation Monday into the business practices and questionable science associated with the berry products primarily pitched by Internet companies.

According to the CSPI, there is no scientific evidence that the Brazilian berry (pronounced a-sigh-EE) will help consumers shed pounds, cleanse colons, or perform any other advertised claims.

"If Bernard Madoff were in the food business, he’d be offering 'free' trials of açai-based weight-loss products," says CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt.

The online scam works like this: After promising a 14-day free trial of açai berry products, the companies make it virtually impossible to cancel the trial, resulting in charges to consumer credit cards ranging anywhere from $59 to $89.

“We will investigate these allegedly misleading or deceptive nutrition and health claims and take action under our consumer protection statutes—as we have done with other food products,” Blumenthal says.

“As problematic as the berries are the bills,” he says.

Açai began attracting attention in 2005 on the belief that its juice was especially high in antioxidants.

The CSPI, however, is out to set the record straight.

According to a statement by the group, “açai juice has only middling levels of antioxidants—less than that of Concord grape, blueberry, and black cherry juices, but more than cranberry, orange, and apple juices.”

Once the berry was mentioned on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2008 and again on “Rachael Ray” that same year, the hype quickly grew.

Soon after, ads on Google, Facebook, and major news media Web sites began appearing, drawing consumers to sites with names like ,,,, and dozens of others.

Both women have publicly disassociated themselves from the açai sites that used their names without authorization.

“These claims are based on folklore, traditional remedies, and outright fabrications—unproven by real scientific evidence,” Blumenthal says. “In reality, consumers lose more money than weight after free trials transition into inescapable charges.”

Açai companies with F ratings from the Better Business Bureau include Pure Açai Berry Pro (Advanced Wellness Research), AçaiBurn, Açai Berry Maxx (FX Supplements), and SFL Nutrition.

--Blair Chancey

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