THE ROSY WORLD OF NUTRI-BIO
Why Canadians spend $12 millions annually on capsules food experts say are next to useless
Two YKARS AGO, Charles, or Chuck. Young, a husky forty-six-year-old roller-skating rink operator from California, moved to Vancouver and established an enterprise known as Nutri-Bio of Canada. The company specialized in direct-to-the-customer selling of green and yellow mineral and vitamin pills. Young's career in the past twenty-four months gives the lie to the song title. There’s No Business Like Show Business. Like show' biz, the Nutri-Bio business has entertainment value, novelty, suspense. competition, glamour, surprise, inspiration. big money and the star system.
Starting from scratch. Nutri-Bio now has its own headquarters building with a mosaic
tile exterior and an interior straight out of a technicolor movie. From these elegant surroundings, a headquarters staff of thirty-five directs the activities of 14,000 Nutri-Bio distributors across Canada who sell some $12.000.000 worth of merchandise a year. An independent underwriter recently placed a value of $5.500,000 on the Nutri-Bio enterprise. Nutri-Bio has already made hundreds of Canadians wealthy. Within eighteen months, Harold Dyck, aged thirty, an $85-a-week Vancouver railway employee, was making $50.000 a year as a Nutri-Bio distributor. Using a sales gimmick I will describe later, dozens of underpaid clerks, impoverished widows and former
welfare recipients are now driving Thunderbirds and Cadillacs, wearing expensive handtailored clothes, taking trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii and otherwise enjoying the adornments and privileges of their newly acquired wealth.
Nutri-Bio executives, who radiate high-voltage optimism and positive thinking, claim that their business has barely begun. "Within five years we’ll be grossing $300 millions a year." says Vice-President Jim Rohn. a former evangelical preacher. In addition to the vitamin and mineral pills. Nutri-Bio now markets BabyBio for small fry; Protein Instant Mix. a substitute for coffee; protein wafers, to be eaten by everybody at any time; and more products, like flavor straws for sipping Protein Instant Mix. to come. "We ll have a product for everybody, from the cradle to the grave.” says Rohn. "All the world is waiting for Nutri-Bio.”
There are two ominous shadows in the rosy world of Nutri-Bio. One is cast by government regulatory agencies, the other by authorities in the field of nutrition.
On at least six occasions during the past
year, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration has seized Nutri-Bio products and promotion materials, charging that “sales agents made representations that Nutri-Bio is useful ... for colds, flu, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. . . ." FDA also made pointed comment about Nutri-Bio's version of the need for food supplementation: “It is now' the consensus of nutritional and medical authorities that most people . . . get an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals in their ordinary diet and do not require supplementation with products like Nutri-Bio.” FDA dismissed Nutri-Bio's claim of superiority because its ingredients are of “natural origin." The nutritional value of synthetically prepared vitamins, they pointed out. “is identical to that of the same vitamins obtained from natural sources.” These views are shared by Canadian nutritionists. Dr. G. FI. Beaton of the University of Toronto states flatly, “Food supplements are a waste of money.” Nutri-Bio's relationship with the Food and Drug Directorate in Ottawa has been relatively calm. "The company submitted their
products and advertising material and we advised certain corrections." says Dr. C. A. Morrell, the director. "These corrections were made. Obviously, we have no check on what they may say in door-to-door selling. Another thing — because we don't object to a product, it doesn't mean that we approve of it. Get that straight.”
HOW TO BE A MISSIONARY — AND GET RICH
There are two important reasons for the meteoric rise of Nutri-Bio. One is the razzledazzle marketing scheme, which has been likened to the chain letter get-rich-quick system. The other is an intensive training program, which takes ordinary people and converts them into high-pressure positive thinkers with the zeal of missionaries out to convert the heathen.
The way Nutri-Bio goes to market has been described by the Food and Drug Administration as follows: "The product is distributed by door-to-door agents. Any customer may become an agent, and, in turn, chain-letter
fashion, receive commissions from other agents he recruits. The optimistic predictions of financial success for salesmen play a big part in the promotion of the product."
It's simple to get in on the Nutri-Bio bonanza. Any beginner can qualify as a retail distributor — the lowest rank in the hierarchy —by attending a few training meetings and buying $130 worth of merchandise and a sales promotion kit. He sells at a thirty-five percent profit. If he’s a real go-getter he steadily ascends the Nutri-Bio ladder, from retail distributor to sponsor to general distributor. The most exalted field rank is that of group co-ordinator. With each step up. the salesman is allowed a larger commission. This enables him to recruit and pay for salesmen of his own. Thus, a group co-ordinator may have hundreds of people working for him and. by the system of overriding commissions, he stands to make as much as $25,000 a month.
The spectacular sales value this system builds owes most of its success to the special training given Nutri-Bio
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A positive thinker’s prayer: “Thank you, Father, for the privilege of paying income tax”
people. Salesmen are told that they are not salesmen, hut henefactors of mankind, out to spread the “Nutri-Bio story." In its simplest form, the story is this: Nearly all of us are suffering from a vitamin and mineral deficiency because of our poor eating habits and because we eat foods which arc frozen, canned, processed or grown in soil which is inadequately fertilized. To compensate for this hidden hunger, and thus preserve our health, we must take a daily food supplement — and Nutri-Bio contains no fewer than eight vitamins and twenty-two minerals. Repeatedly, Nutri-Bio leaders say that Nutri-Bio is primarily a humanitarian, rather than a profit-making, enterprise. “We're not interested in selling boxes of vitamins and minerals,” says President Charles Young. “We’re interested in the customer as a whole man.” Vice-President Jim Rohn, who spends his Sundays preaching from various pulpits, observes, “Like the ministry, selling Nutri-Bio is another way.of helping people.” A huge map of North America, dotted with yellow and green pins, hangs on the wall above Rohn’s desk. The yellow pins indicate where Rohn has delivered sermons; the green pins where he has addressed Nutri-Bio sales meetings. Bob Cummings, the movie and TV star who owns a sixth of the parent U. S. company, explains that he’s in the food supplement business “because there's a humanitarian thing about me, wanting to help people. Money doesn't matter to me.” At sales meetings, Cummings is hailed as the dazzling champion of the food supplement movement and introduced as “NutriBio’s Number One distributor, Mr. Vitamin himself.” His book on nutrition is described as “the greatest message that can be given to the world.” The power of positive thinking is another Nutri-Bio prime article of faith. “We believe that anyone can have anything he wants; anyone can be anything he wants to be,” says Charles Young. “People who fail are negative thinkers.” Young describes dozens of case histories of men and women who came to Nutri-Bio as poor, timid, chronic negative thinkers. “We transformed them completely,” he says. “Everything about them became different — their dress, talk, walk, even the way they shook hands.” Young himself has mastered the art of positive thinking with years of practice and self-education; he read the hooks of such up-tempo authors as Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill. To safeguard his present state of “positivity,” Young avoids reading the morning newspapers. “They're full of plane crashes, murder, crime and violence,” he says. “Why should I start the day off steeped in negativity? Instead, I read the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Post. They’re positive papers.” Young’s positive thinking is all-encompassing. In a Thanksgiving Day prayer, published in the Nutri-Bio paper, he says, “Thank you. Father, for government regulations,
policing our industry to keep our exuberance within reasonable hounds . . . Thanks for the Better Business Bureau for guiding us to better business practices . . . Thanks for the privilege of paying income taxes . . .”
To witness, at first hand, the application of positive thinking to business, 1 visited Nutri-Bio headquarters, in Vancouver, and later in Beverly Hills, California. Inside the front door of the Vancouver office sat a red-headed receptionist with a stylish bouffant hair-do. (L.ike all other Nutri-Bio girls, she was exceptionally attractive.) Above her. on the wall, hung a large, smiling color photograph of Bob Cummings. The rosy-brown broad loom was extra-deep, the furniturd ultramodern. the paintings abstract, the piped-in music inspirational.
1 was introduced to Fred Strong, a former newspaperman who now handles Nutri-Bio’s public relations. It was coffee time but instead of coffee, 1 was offered Protein Mix. This is a protein-rich white powder which, when mixed with skimmed milk and banana and nutmeg flavoring, tasted lather pleasant. “It will keep your energy from flagging,” said Strong. Strong and his family take Nutri-Bio products regularly. “We’ve especially noticed the difference in the kids,” he said. “They’re more alert. They're making higher marks at school.” Strong promptly corrected me when I referred to Nutri-Bio vitamin and mineral pills as “pills.” "They're not pills,” he said, “they’re food portions.” To Nutri-Bio, this is an important distinction.
Next, I was ushered into the paneled office of President Charles Young, a tall, husky man with a leonine face. He’s afTable and talks easily. He pointed proudly to the plastic model of a flying car which hung from the ceiling. “We’ve got the only licensed flying car in existence,” he said. I asked him about the importance of positive thinking in his business. “Everybody in this office has a positive attitude,” he said. “You probably felt the vibrations when you walked in.” Not all people, Young observed somewhat sadly, are able to practise positive thinking. “We’ve had three executives in this office who failed,” he said. “They felt uncom-
fortable in this atmosphere. They wanted to get away from it. They thought we u'ere crazy."
Young was lavish in his praise of Canada. “People who can't get wealthy in Canada can t get wealthy anywhere.” he said. "The people here are industrious, helpful and less suspicious than Americans.” According to Young, anybody who wants to be wealthy can be. and one of the worthiest and most direct routes to wealth is through Nutri-Bio. "Tell the Nutri-Bio story five times a day and something wonderful will happen to you,” he says.
I continued the discussion about money with Jim Rohn. a slight wiry man with a prominent nose and deepset burning eyes. Rohn's eloquence, polished by years of evangelical preaching, can hold an audience motionless for hours. “Money is not evil unless you use it for evil,” he said. Jesus, he pointed out, commanded us to give to the poor. “How can anyone give to the poor if they’re poor themselves?” he asks. As for hecklers who say that money spent on food supplementation is money wasted. Rohn says: “It's up to them to prove it.”
The Nutri-Bio spirit has already enveloped the pretty girls who work in the head office. They not only think positively; they regularly swallow the prescribed vitamin and mineral pills, drink protein mix during coffee breaks and sprinkle Baby-Bio on their meat loaf. “Look at these girls,” says Charles Young proudly. “There’s a radiance about them . . . their skin, their shining eyes, their energy. You don't see it in other girls. These girls are more than happy — they're also healthy.” Just how much of their attractiveness can be attributed to NutriBio remains a moot point. In advertising for female help, Nutri-Bio has specified that it’s looking for “the prettiest girls in Canada.”
Barbara Qually, a secretary with black hair and sparkling eyes, certainly fits. “People tease me about working at Nutri-Bio but, at the same time, they've noticed the change. I'm less nervous. I sleep better and I can sit still for hours at a time. And I've become engaged.” Another Nutri-Bio girl, Velma Dempsey, says, “I know I'll have a Thunderbird within two years, and after that, a mink coat.”
This kind of optimism is common among Nutri-Bio people because the company begins a program of indoctrination at the first contact with an interested party. Salesmen are recruited from the customers or with newspaper advertisements. Prospects are invited to attend “recruiting” meetings. “On any given day in Canada there are about two hundred such meetings going on in private homes, hotel suites and church basements,” says Young. “They're attended by anywhere from two to two hundred people.” The recruits see films and hear inspirational talks.
A neophyte salesman is told where to find customers. Everyone he comes in touch with is a potential sale — his service station operator, his butcher. grocer, barber. Taking Nutri-Bio pills in a public place is always an opener. “Once I took my Nutri-Bio at a lunch counter and the waitress and the fellow sitting next to me both started asking questions. They both became customers,” recalls Charles
Young. Jim Rohn used to hand out literature to adjacent cars while stopping at traffic lights. The ambitious distributor always keeps his eye open for customers, who in turn, can be enlisted as his salesmen. (About a third of Nutri-Bio distributors have other people selling for them.) One brochure points out that “firemen have every other day free . . . Milkmen are free from 2 p.m. on ... If you see a cleaning truck in front of a house, pull up and talk to the operator about augmenting his income. He already knows dozens of people and can tell them the food supplementation story.”
To prevent lapses into negative thinking, the Nutri-Bio company frequently holds meetings of its sales force. One of the most memorable was held in a Toronto hotel last summer. It lasted all day, was attended by 2,000 distributors, and was graced by the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cummings and other executives from the American company. “It was ninety percent inspirational — almost like a revival meeting,” says Young.
Young opened on a note of reverence. “Cynics say that this is a dogeat-dog world and in business you have to hurt people," he said, but this was not true of Nutri-Bio. “We teach our customers things they can’t possibly repay us for.” Then he switched themes. “Not every industry offers profits of $5,000 to $19,000 a month. Let’s not be embarrassed or bashful about earning so much money. We’re earning it the right way. Anyway, Canada needs a lot of millionaires.”
The next speaker was Vice-President Jim Rohn. “It's easy to make a fortune if you render a service to mankind,” Rohn said. “There are billions and billions and billions of dollars in this world. All you have to do is get some of it.” He went on, “To whom who hath, it shall be given. To whom who hath not, even that miserable little bit shall be taken away.”
Star billing went to the TV actor Cummings. "All my life,“ he said. “I’ve been considered a food nut, an idiot, a faddist and cultist. Now people don’t laugh at me any more . . . If they did. I’d hit them over the head with my fat bankbook.” (Laughter.) Cummings had prefaced his recital by saying, "I want to bare my heart to you. Brush the cobwebs from your heart. Be as little children and ye shall rcceivè.” He ended his speech by extolling Nutri-Bio. “NutriBio is not a business,” he said, “it’s a way of life."
One of the last speakers was Earl Shoaff. the president of American Nutri-Bio. Regarded as the company's grand panjandrum of positive thinking, Shoaff is not unlike Billy Graham in physical appearance and dress. It was Shoaff who. along with two other men, founded Nutri-Bio five years ago. He told the audience he had been in the pressing and cleaning business for twenty years, making $100 a week, when the Nutri-Bio idea struck him. "Everything was against me. I left school after the ninth grade. I had never been in the food business or spoken in public. But within twelve months I made $100.000.” Such was the power of positive thinking.
Shoaff offered the formula for getting what you want, whether you are “the world's greatest theologian or
“Our girls are happy. They eat positively”
greatest sinner.” You think of what you want, then you definitize it. “It's not enough to want a car. What kind of a car? See it, smell it — a new car has a special kind of smell . . ." After definitizing your wish, you write it down on a piece of paper and. after it. Thank You. “Then put the paper away in a secret hiding place.”
I interviewed Earl Shoaff later in his Beverley Hills, California, office. He told me that the need for “food supplementation" was the first thing in his life he ever really believed in. His religious convictions, he said, are expressed through the Nutri-Bio business. “We're probably as religious as anyone you’ll ever meet,” he said. He told me that American Nutri-Bio now grosses $30,000,000 a year and a fantastic era of expansion lies ahead. The Canadian company operates under a franchise, paying the parent company three percent of its total sales for the privilege. In addition. Shoaff and his five partners own about a fifth of the shares of the Canadian company. 1 asked Shoaff how much money he earned annually. He was silent for a few seconds and then said, “I’m not going to answer that. It will encourage too much negative thinking.”
There's abundant evidence that Earl Shoaff’s success formula works for many people. Mrs. Doris Ogilvie of Toronto started selling Nutri-Bio to augment her husband's income. After six months, her husband quit his job to help her. In one month, she sold $100,000 worth of merchandise which meant a profit of $25,000. In Hamilton. Ontario, Jerry and Vera Camp-
bell had to borrow $50 to buy their initial supply of Nutri-Bio. Within twenty weeks they were group coordinators with earnings in the $50,000-a-year bracket. A British Columbia lad in his early twenties made $16,000 in one month. Not all NutriBio salesmen go after the big money. There are hundreds of part-time workers — housewives and older people — who are content with modest monthly incomes, ranging from $50 to $200 a month.
Will all these people continue to make money from Nutri-Bio? Or will Nutri-Bio suddenly burst like a bubble? The future of Nutri-Bio is directly linked to how the public answers the question: “Are food supplements a health necessity or a waste of money?”
Not unexpectedly, the Nutri-Bio people, down to the last man, share Young's view that “anyone who doesn't use a food supplement every day is either uninformed or a damned fool.” Young agrees that, theoretically, it's possible to obtain all the necessary minerals and vitamins by following Canada's food guide, but how' many people do? Hardly any. he says, and the flood of education about nutrition hasn’t changed our eating habits one iota.
An American Vice-President, Harry Ebbert, explained to me that food supplementation is one way of curbing violent behavior. "If you deprive a bunch of laboratory rats of calcium they become vicious and attack each other,” he said. “Restore calcium to their diet and they calm do'* n. There was the story in the newspapers a
few' years ago about the young lad who killed eleven people for no apparent reason. That report included a powerful message. The boy hadn’t had a home-cooked meal for tw'o years; he had lived on hot dogs and cokes.” Bob Cummings assures his audiences, “Before this world can be straightened out, the world has to eat right.”
’These views, presented by former pants presser, roller-skating rink operators and commercial film-makers are treated w'ith scorn by most authorities in the field of nutrition. "A vast new folklore of nutrition is being built up by distorting the facts,” says Charles Crawford, a former U. S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Only a few weeks ago, his successor in office, George P. Larrick, announced plans to crack down on what he termed the "nutritional quackery” business which now amounts to some $500 millions a year. "The promotion of vitamin products, special dietary foods and food supplements is the most expensive type of quackery in the United States today,” he said. The proposed regulations would limit dietary value claims to twelve vitamins and minerals. NutriBio lists thirty ingredients in its pills.
Nutritionists refute almost all the arguments put forth in favor of food supplements. Is it true that canned, frozen and other processed foods are inferior in nutrient value to fresh foods? No, says Dr. Ci. H. Beaton of the University of Toronto. Canned and frozen foods are often cooked by methods which preserve nutrients far better than fresh foods prepared by housewives. Rushed from field to factory, processed foods are often more healthful than “fresh foods” which might be several days old. Again, many food processors fortify their foods with vitamins to restore possible losses.
Does soil depletion reduce the vitamin and mineral content of food? No. says the U. S. Department of Agriculture after long-term investigations. The quality of crops grown in poor and rich soil is the same; only the quantity of the yield is different.
Should most people take food supplements “just to make sure?” No. says the American Medical Association Council on Foods and Nutrition. Most people, the council says, get more than enough vitamins and minerals in their daily diet. A possible exception, for a minority, would be vitamin-n. Infants, children, pregnant and nursing mothers might require supplementation in the form of vitamin-D milk or pills. Mineral deficiencies are rare and vitamin-mineral pills can’t compensate for the coffce-anddoughnut breakfast. “There’s not a particle of scientific evidence that the amounts of trace elements present in vitamin-mineral compounds are of the slightest value in preventing or treating human disease,” says the council. The overconsumption of vitamins is a much more real danger. “Too much vitamin-D can cause kidney damage, depression, headache, etc.,” warns the council, “while vitamin-A in excess, can lead to severe disorders of the nervous system."
President Charles Young responds to criticism from scientific sources, in a truly positive way. “Unfavorable publicity is a tribute to progress," he