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Herbal Magic all about supplement sales: ex-clients

A leading Canadian weight-loss chain that promises to help people shed pounds through proper eating and in-house support is just as much about selling expensive diet supplements, according to an investigation by CBC-TV's Marketplace.
A leading Canadian weight-loss chain that promises to help people shed pounds through proper eating and in-house support is just as much about selling expensive diet supplements, according to an investigation by CBC-TV's Marketplace.

Former client Stacey Edgar of St. Catharines, Ont., said there's no way she would have signed up if she had known the cost was going to rise so high.

"Had I known that it was going to cost me over three, four, almost $5,000 to do the program successfully, I would have walked out the door," said Edgar.

Herbal Magic president Fraser Clarke defended how supplements are sold, saying that it is important to "incentivize" staff to help clients lose weight.

"We're in the business of helping men and women lose weight. We've been doing it for 15 years. We see over 40,000 clients on an annual basis and we have a 91 per cent satisfaction rate," said Clarke.

Herbal Magic, with more than 300 locations across Canada, promises to help customers lose weight using a combination of personal coaching, food and natural products. The cost of joining the counselling portion of the program is about $1,000.

On top of that, most participants sign a contract to purchase two supplements: WM-2000, which costs about $220 a month, and Chromagic, which comes in at $25 a month.

The company also sells dozens of optional products, ranging from a fat blocker that costs $44.95, to cellulite stoppers for $59.50, to a $350 product called Platoria, which is supposed to help clients overcome a plateau in their weight loss.

'There was always a product to fix your failure'

The pressure to buy can be overwhelming.

"All that ever mattered was that I wasn't losing fast enough, that I needed to buy more products. And that's all that I experienced in that program,'' said Maureen Hindy, of Langley, B.C.

"There was always a product to fix your failure. The pressure was very overwhelming. It got to the point that I began to dread going to the centre for weigh-ins.

"I remember buying that ginseng because I had said no to a lot of products up to that point. And I thought, 'OK, I'll buy that. I'll buy the ginseng.' And I did that with a cookbook as well."

Former Herbal Magic coach Celeste Remilliard, who worked there for almost two years before being let go because of a conflict with her boss in 2006, said selling supplements was a big part of the job.

"If [clients] came in with a headache, there's a recommendation for that," said Remilliard. "If they came in with diarrhea or constipation, there's a recommendation for that. There is a recommendation for absolutely everything."

The diet chain is in the process of replacing one of its main supplements, WM-2000, with two other supplements: Essience Energy Boost and Essience Metabolic Plus.

As of Jan. 1, 2010, Health Canada has required that all natural health products be licensed in order to be in compliance with new government regulations, a move that Clarke said he strongly supports.

"I've been here for 11 months and we've made a lot of very, very significant changes in that period of time. Are we perfect? No. Are we moving in the right direction? Without a doubt," said Clarke.

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