In the five years since we started Complement, this is the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write.
I say that because, after all the typical ups and downs a startup goes through, we’ve finally reached a point with the Complement business that resembles stability and comfort.
But comfort was never the reason we started this company. And as tempting as it is to just not rock the boat, that’s not how we make progress and improve the world.
I know this is going to upset a lot of our peers in the supplement industry, and maybe cost our company some allies. But I’m okay with that, because I don’t feel like I have a choice.
So here goes.
In five years’ time, we’ve seen some scary and sad illustrations of the deceit that is rampant in the supplement industry.
Just a few examples:
- We had a manufacturer suggest that it would be alright for us to deliver vitamins in amounts that are 50% less than “label claim.” (That means our customers would get half the amount of the nutrients we claimed on our packaging, and we’d save a bunch of money with this lie.)
- We learned why so many companies use “proprietary blends” when a supplier suggested that we do it when we were creating Complement Protein. (Proprietary blends allow a company to create a product that’s 97% a cheap ingredient, 1% each of three good ingredients, and then list the four ingredients without telling anyone the percentages. Customers think they have a magic formula, when what they’re paying for is a big charade.)
- We’ve consistently heard that as long as a filler ingredient, or preservative, or some other scary thing is “under 2% of the formula” that we don’t need to list the ingredient, or even multiple such ingredients.
The list goes on… which is why supplement companies have — from what we’ve seen, a well deserved — bad rap.
(We hope it goes without saying that we didn’t actually do any of these things.)
The supplement industry wants to sell you cocktails of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds. That’s their end goal — their reason for being. Selling more.
At the end of the day, they don’t actually care if you get healthy. As long as you keep buying vitamins, they’re happy.
That’s always bugged us.
Our choice to call ourselves “Complement” (crossing out the word “supplement”) was a nod to this discomfort. When “supplement companies” survive by selling you more than you need, we wanted a product with only what we needed and nothing else. We wanted to make the product that we wanted to take — and to give to our families, including our young kids.
That’s how Complement — the product, and the name — came about.
But like it or not, when it comes down to it, we are in fact a supplement company. Even if we think of ourselves differently and our customers think of us differently, to suppliers, competitors, and the rest of the industry, we’re a supplement company.
Like I said, this has always bothered us, but we’ve done our best to play the game in a way that stays true to our values, ethics, and mission to support the plant-based movement.
But we’ve come to the conclusion that there’s more we can do. More for your health, more for the health of the movement, and more to empower you to make the right decisions for your goals.
Do you know (for sure) if your supplement works?
A lot of people take supplements to fill the holes in their diets.
But the fact is a lot of people don’t know whether the supplements they take (and pay handsomely for) actually make a difference.
We confirmed this with the survey we sent out to our community last week.
One striking fact, as an example: while about half of respondents do occasionally get their Vitamin B12 and D levels checked, only about 10% of people check their levels of DHA and EPA, two omega-3s that are critical for brain and heart health.
But what we as a supplement company know is this:
- Relative to B12, D, and most other nutrients, omega-3’s are very expensive, so they’re the nutrient most likely to be under-provided in a supplement, in order to keep the price down. Even though Complement’s omega-3 content is the highest of all vegan multivitamins, we wish we could include more. But to do so would mean raising the price and going from three capsules to four, and if we were to do that, it would become inaccessible to a lot of people.
- Even some Complement subscribers — members of our team included — have omega-3 levels that, while in a passable range, aren’t quite optimal. Not everyone, of course, as diet and individual conversion rates of other omega-3’s also play a role. But as much as we’d love to make a one-size-fits-all supplement, it’s just not possible.
And what do you think most supplement companies do with information like this? (Trust me, they have it.)
Right. They hide it. Or at least don’t talk about it.
Because the goal is to sell you more supplements, not to maximize your health.
The supplement industry is all too happy for you to live in blissful ignorance, choosing to believe that what you’re doing is working to prevent deficiencies or help you feel a little better each day.
So how about you? Do you actually know that the supplements you’re paying for are working?
From what we’ve seen, the odds are good that the answer is no.
Whose responsibility is your health?
With something as important as our health, why don’t more of us feel the responsibility to make sure that what we’re doing is working — beyond just subjectively noting how we feel?
Well, there are a lot of reasons, and fortunately, none of them is your fault.
First, we were raised to believe that our health wasn’t our responsibility. It was the responsibility of our doctor or our parents, our genetics, or something else beyond our control… anything but our own responsibility.
Our culture, unfortunately, never taught us that it’s our privilege and responsibility to make the decisions that allow us to thrive.
Then the internet happened, and we became privy to lots of information that allowed us to take more control of our own health decisions (like that one about eating a plant-based diet…).
Except then a lot of us started just listening to social media experts, Google and WebMD, and a bunch of other companies.
Companies who, like I’ve said, don’t necessarily have your best, long-term health interests at heart.
But it gets worse still.
While you’re dedicated to being healthy, a whole lot of people (unfortunately) aren’t. And while taking steps to prevent health problems (like you probably do) is relatively cheap, treating them after they arise is expensive.
But our healthcare system, with its over-reliance on retroactive fixes paid for by insurance companies, doesn’t properly incentivize prevention.
So it costs way more than it should for your doctor to order blood tests for you.
Oh, and statistically, your doctor probably isn’t plant-based, since despite a lot of growth of the plant-based movement, we’re still a vast minority. So even if you did want to ask for some blood tests, he or she might not know exactly which ones you should get… nor how to interpret the results that come back.
For example: Do the “normal” ranges apply when your diet is plant-based and your lifestyle is active? Or are they made for sedentary people?
And as for their guidance to correct abnormalities in test results… we’re not doubting that they mean well, but so often a typical doctor’s recommendations just aren’t tailored to someone for whom eating plant-based is both a health choice and an ethical one. (If I hear one more time that I should try eating more salmon and yogurt…)
I have talked to most of our team about this — and plenty of friends and family and our community — and everyone says the same thing: “I wish it were easier, and less stressful, and less expensive to do the health tests that I know I should do.”
But because it involves the doctor, insurance, waiting rooms, time-wasting and high costs all around — not to mention the research to understand what tests to ask for and how to interpret them — people don’t do it.
And that’s a tragedy.
Because the solution to “testing is inconvenient and expensive” shouldn’t be to remain in the dark about whether the supplements you’re paying for are working — and, really, whether your diet and lifestyle are keeping you healthy (not just feeling good now, but protecting you for the long term).
To choose the latter — to do nothing — is simply replacing one costly problem with one that’s even more costly, in the form of supplements you’re paying for that are ultimately finding their way into very expensive urine.
Or worse, to ignore a health issue until it’s too late and costs even more to try to treat or reverse it.
The good news? There's potential. (Lots of it.)
These systemic problems have kept us up at night for a long time.
But not because we feel hopeless. In fact, it's because we feel the exact opposite — excited to fix a problem and serve you, our community, in even more ways.
If we (as a society) have been so misled by supplement companies and under-informed from lack of testing, just think about the potential when this is no longer the case.
It would be life-changing.
We wouldn’t just hope we're taking the right actions for your long-term health, we’d know.
If a short-term issue arises, we’d have insight on how to address it. In real time.
That’s really powerful because, as the (true) cliché goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
And maybe most importantly, we'd have a clear action plan for how to gain energy, think more clearly, feel your best, and unlock optimization we may not even know to be possible.
It sends chills down my back just thinking of the potential.
But right now, that’s just potential. Not yet reality.
Are you with us?
Complement exists because we couldn't find a transparent, trustworthy source of nutrients to balance the healthy diets of ourselves and our families.
As a result of this commitment to trust, we’re now privileged to serve an amazing community of passionate people who believe the future of food is plant-based.
And now we want to bring you, our community, along with us on our next evolution, one that solves the problems I’ve laid out in this blog post by putting every phase of the testing process — the decisions around what to test for, the in-home testing itself, the careful interpretation of results for the plant-based consumer, and personalized guidance for what to do with those results — in your hands.
We don’t want to sell you supplements. Instead, we want you to be healthy.
That’s the motto around which we’re gearing every decision we make as we build the next iteration of our company.
We’re calling this new focus “Personalized, Evidence-Based Nutrition.”
And if we’re successful, the potential for your health (and this movement) is massive.
We don’t yet have details to share just yet; this whole thing is too new. We want to know if we’re aligned, if the problems we’ve identified (with your help) are the ones that keep you up at night, too.
And if you’re with us.
We’ve got some work ahead of us. Some deep thinking, a whole lot of conversations with community members, and plenty of building.
But it’ll be worth it, and we’re so grateful to have you with us on the journey.