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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Nutrition Firm Agrees to Fine, New Packaging

May 09, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A maker of dietary supplements has agreed to redesign its packages and pay $176,707 after Ventura County prosecutors brought civil charges accusing the Salt Lake City company of engaging in unfair business practices.

Attorneys in the county's consumer protection division alleged that Weider Nutrition Inc. packaged dietary supplements in oversized jars and then filled the extra space with cotton.

Without admitting wrongdoing, the company agreed to stop the practice and to stop advertising that a certain number of the nutritional tablets were "free" unless such marketing was part of a limited-time offer.

Of the monetary settlement, $144,500 in penalties will go to the county's general fund, prosecutors said. An additional $17,000 in legal fees and investigative costs will go to the district attorney's office.

And $8,500 will go into a state consumer protection fund in lieu of reimbursement to individual consumers.

"This is a case of statewide impact," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael D. Schwartz, who handled the lawsuit. "We are dealing with expectations of consumers. When you see a package of a certain size you assume it is reasonably full of product."

Todd Crowley, corporate counsel for Weider Nutrition Group, said he was only aware of one complaint brought against the company for its packaging. He said Weider responded immediately.

"As soon as we were made aware, we started making packaging changes," Crowley said. "Some of those were implemented over a year ago."

The settlement between prosecutors and Weider was reached last week, two years after a Ventura County resident contacted the district attorney's office to complain about the nutrition company's packaging.

Prosecutors launched an investigation and learned that officials in Marin County and the state attorney general's office were also checking into the issue, Schwartz said.

The attorney general joined in the settlement, which was signed by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh on May 2.

The judge also issued a permanent injunction that prohibits Weider from distributing in California any packaged dietary supplement that contains unnecessary filling.

"What we are trying to do is protect consumers, protect competitors and provide a level playing field," Schwartz said.

Crowley said the company was pleased the matter was settled, but disappointed that the case was pursued based upon a single consumer complaint.

Reading from a prepared statement, he pointed out that "the district attorney acknowledges that the product did contain the amount of servings disclosed on each label."

Weider Nutrition Group is a subsidiary of Weider Nutrition International Inc., a multimillion-dollar fitness corporation that sells vitamins, sports nutrition products and weightlifting equipment worldwide.

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