High-profile vitamins company Swisse has evaded an attempt by authorities to ban its appetite suppressant product just as the group launches a push into the US featuring actor Nicole Kidman.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last week cancelled the registration of Swisse’s Ultiboost Appetite Suppressant because there was ‘‘insufficient evidence to support the indications for the product and the presentation of the product was unacceptable’’.
However, the company has registered a new product with exactly the same ingredient, an extract of an Indian cactus, under the name Ultiboost Hunger Control.
‘‘We’ve changed the name but the ingredients remain the same,’’ Swisse head of media Mitch Catlin said.
Chief executive Radek Sali said: ‘‘It remains a popular product in Australia and it is on the shelf at all retail outlets.”
The company claims research shows the cactus extract significantly reduces hunger, but La Trobe University associate adjunct professor Dr Ken Harvey said there was no scientific proof the product worked.
Dr Harvey, who lodged the complaint that led to the TGA taking action, said Swisse had dropped a claim it caused weight loss but continued to argue it suppresses appetite.
Kidman is the star of new Swisse commercials promoting four other products in the company’s vitamins range.
Swisse increased its use of celebrity endorsements in 2011 after hiring Mr Catlin, who was formerly head of public relations at Myer.
As part of its publicity blitz it set up a marquee at the Melbourne Cup and hired Kidman, tennis player Lleyton Hewitt, test cricket captain Ricky Ponting, TV host Sonia Kruger and others as brand ‘‘ambassadors’’.
It was also the driving force behind last month’s visit to Australia by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, which drew saturation media coverage.
On Sunday, Swisse aired the new TV commercials starring Kidman in Australia, and the company plans to roll out a big US promotional push later this month during DeGeneres’ NBC TV talk show.
It has also been mooted as a potential takeover target, with the private equity arm of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury good maker, reportedly a possible buyer.
The company is yet to file a financial report for 2012, but company records show it made a profit of $8.8 million in 2011, up from $3.8 million in 2010, after sales surged from $56.3 million to $92.6 million.
Dr Harvey said that in practice removal of products from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods ‘‘means little’’.
‘‘It takes a long time to achieve, pharmacists and others continue to promote and sell delisted products until they are out of stock, and the companies involved invariably create and list new products with the same ingredients and only slightly modified claims,’’ he said.
‘‘All of this provides little protection to consumers who continue to be ripped off.’’
Health Department spokeswoman Kay McNiece could not be reached for comment on Thursday morning.
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