Herbalife is a hugely popular MLM that sells a wide range of health and wellness products. Pretty much everyone who’s familiar with multilevel marketing has heard of Herbalife.
It’s the juggernaut of the health and wellness multilevel marketing niche—since its inception in 1980, it’s been a perennial top dog on the market.
Did I get on board? This explains everything:
Herbalife has definitely had its share of ups and downs: in the early 2000s, Herbalife came under fire for selling supplements that contained the herbal extract ephedra, which was found to be associated with heart attack and stroke. Herbalife pulled the supplements once the FDA banned the compound. Later, Herbalife was criticized by independent chemical analytics labs for allowing lead contamination into its supplements.
More recently, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman publicly called out the company, claiming it was a pyramid scheme, and made a billion-dollar bet against the company’s stock prices.
A Federal Trade Commission investigation ended with Herbalife making a $200 million settlement with the government, and making some small changes to its business model. The core MLM setup remains unchanged, however.
In terms of its products, Herbalife offers a wide range of supplements for health and well-being. They offer vitamin supplements, like Xtra Cal, a calcium supplement, as well as more herbal-based formulations, like their phytonutrient supplement Garden 7, which contains a range of herbal extracts designed to boost immune system function.
With a huge number of supplements available for sale, it’s hard to peg any particular category as deserving of increased marketing. However, sales figures from independent Herbalife distributors give some picture of what’s popular.
One of the best selling products is Formula 1, their meal replacement shake. This makes sense, given that the company’s founder got his start selling protein shakes out of the trunk of his car.
The Formula 1 shake is based on soy protein isolate, fructose, and vitamin additives, and comes in fourteen different flavors.
It’s designed to be a meal replacement, so it provides some balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates: One 90 calorie serving provides 36 calories from protein, 10 from fat, and 36 from sugar, with the remainder coming from more complex carbohydrates.
The vitamin and mineral profile is fairly complete too, though most of the ingredients don’t rise to 100% of your recommended daily intake.
This makes sense, as the protein shake is not designed to be a total dietary replacement; rather, it replaces one meal. Some people might object to its relatively high sugar content–not only does the drink contain a fair bit of sugar, the lion’s share of it appears to come from fructose, the most pernicious and harmful form of sugar.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are independently associated with an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. This much was demonstrated in a 2010 study by researchers at a coalition of universities and hospitals, including Harvard School of Health.
Through pooling a large number of different experiments and running advanced statistical analysis, the study authors were able to show that consuming sugar sweetened beverages (and a protein shake full of fructose would definitely qualify) increases your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, even after controlling for weight gain.
This is not good news if you want to use Formula 1 as a weight loss supplement, since it means that even if you lose weight, your metabolic health may get worse.
Among the other best-selling Herbalife products is the wildly popular Sleep Now. It’s a sleep aid, but it’s not just a melatonin supplement like other competitors.
It does contain the so-called “sleep hormone”; each pill contains 1 mg of the substance. Each pill also contains passion flower extract, hops extract, valerian extract, wild lettuce, cinnamon extract, orange peel, lavender, and amla extract.
It’s not clear to what extent the rest of these ingredients aid sleep, but melatonin is a widely known sleep aid. Melatonin is helpful for improving sleep, both in your daily routine and when you travel. It can help alleviate the negative effects of jet lag; scientists report that the optimal amount is 0.5 to 1 mg, so Herbalife’s Sleep Now is definitely in the ballpark.
If nothing else, the bitter, astringent taste of melatonin is covered up by the aromatic flower and herb extracts. Reviewers praise the pleasant aftertaste compared to store-bought melatonin supplements.
Being a long-established MLM, Herbalife has a pretty standard compensation plan. The mandatory startup kit is $59.99; becoming a distributor allows you to start ordering at wholesale prices.
The FTC banned Herbalife from having even an optional autoship, so that’s not a concern. You can also earn a commission from customers on your downline, and both this and your wholesale discount increases as a function of your product volume.
While Herbalife is a well-known supplement company, and as such is much more likely to be a trusted name, it is the very definition of a saturated market. Herbalife distributors are already set up with a strong network in every corner of the country, so you’ll be joining very far down on the pecking order.
The company’s income disclosure statement bears this out: Of half a million total members in the United States, only a bit over ten percent actually earned a commission in 2014. Only a tiny fraction receive anything resembling a real salary.
Granted, if you yourself use Herbalife products, becoming a member is a good deal just to get the wholesale prices, and you could eventually try to spin this into a business opportunity if you find an opening in your area’s market.
The more likely outcome, though, is that the US market is highly saturated and hard to break into given the long history and name of this company.
If you’re set on MLM, it’s not terrible, but there are more profitable opportunities out there.
If you’re doing it for the money, there are better ways to kill your day job. You might like our coaching because it shows you the good life without peddling overpriced products to your family and friends.