Will CVS’ New Policy Flood the Online Space with Bad Supplements?

CVS announced in May a new policy that requires all vitamins and dietary supplements in the store to be third-party tested for safety and label accuracy. The "Tested to Be Trusted" program is an innovative initiative to weed out problematic supplements, but will it create new problems for e-commerce platforms and payment service providers operating in the online space?

The move by CVS is an attempt to take action in an increasingly unwieldy industry. Although dietary supplements fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, they are not required to be vetted by the FDA before going to market. This has created an ongoing problem with supplements found to be substandard, tainted, or contain problematic claims that they can treat and prevent diseases. For this reason, the FDA recently announced a new working group to improve oversight of the dietary supplement industry. For now, however, regulation is often reactive rather than proactive.

Of more than 1,400 supplements CVS carries, about 7 percent failed to comply with the company's standards. That equates to about 100 products. This may seem like a relatively small amount, but it's important to consider the scale of distribution. CVS is one of the US' largest retail pharmacy chains, with close to 10,000 locations. The brand owners of the roughly 100 products that failed to pass CVS' vetting process could have an enormous amount of product to offload. What quicker way to do so than the internet?

Brand owners with problematic supplements have a few options for selling their products online. They can set up a website and sell direct to consumers, but this can be cumbersome because they would have to obtain a merchant account, process orders, and oversee fulfillment. An easier solution would be to set up a shop through a third-party e-commerce platform, which is typically quick and free. The drawback is that the owners may still have to oversee fulfillment. Furthermore, some of the larger platforms have robust monitoring programs in place; tainted or substandard supplements will likely be flagged and removed. A third solution is to sell the product to one or more of the hundreds of online supplement retailers. Brand owners with a glut of supplements may be willing to sell at a deep discount, which may incentivize some online retailers to turn a blind eye to potential problems with the product.

In the coming months, supplement merchants and payment service providers may want to be especially vigilant in scrutinizing new products appearing in the online market. If other major pharmacy chains follow the example of CVS, the online space could become increasingly saturated with supplements that are tainted, substandard, inaccurately labeled, or otherwise problematic.

LegitScript has the world's largest, most comprehensive database of dietary supplements, including products with problematic ingredients and ones that make disease claims that draw regulatory scrutiny. Our data can help both supplement merchants and payment facilitators confidently check whether supplement products and ingredients are permissible to advertise online. LegitScript collects information from regulatory agencies worldwide and proactively identifies new products on a daily basis, ensuring you always have the most accurate and up-to-date information at your fingertips. With both API and database search options, you can choose a flexible search plan that matches the needs of your business, whether the product inventory you're monitoring is large or small.

Have more questions about supplements? Check out our free Dietary Supplements FAQ guide, which provides helpful resources and in-depth answers to the most common supplement questions.