On stage at a sales convention, XanGo executive Joseph Morton said that when he first stumbled across mangosteen, a tropical fruit with purported curative powers, "I didn't have to have it confirmed in the New England medical journal before I would listen."
The multilevel marketing company has built a huge business around its mangosteen-based juice, which it promotes as an immunity booster. The company still hasn't proved its health benefits - which it says could include a stronger immune system and improved joint function - to skeptical experts. XanGo's website includes a disclaimer, noting the juice is not meant to treat or prevent disease. A lab test arranged by The Associated Press found its antioxidant power to be on par with other fruit juices.
Morton, a 37-year-old triathlete nicknamed Ironman Joe, was on a business trip in Malaysia when he saw mangosteen.
Morton - the company's president of international and distributor relations - capitalized on a new brand category of liquid "super-fruits" that is "doing gangbusters," said Jeff Hilton, a partner at Integrated Marketing Group, a branding consultant.
XanGo, a private company that doesn't reveal financial statements, said at the October convention that since its launch five years ago, sales of the juice topped a cumulative $1 billion. It ships out bottles by the case from Spanish Fork, Utah.
"That's the only product they sell, and people are taking it around the world," said US Senator Orrin Hatch, who quaffs XanGo and pops multivitamins and other supplements every day. The Utah Republican was the prime sponsor of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which allows the sale of supplements unless the Food and Drug Administration can prove them harmful.
An independent lab test performed for The Associated Press shows XanGo's antioxidant strength is no better than other readily available fruit juices, yet it costs nearly $40 a bottle. XanGo insists mangosteen contains other beneficial chemicals.
"My big concern with XanGo is that the business has gone a long way without showing any benefit in human trials," said Wayne Askew, director of the Division of Nutrition of the University of Utah.
Dietary supplements are a $22 billion largely unregulated business in the United States.
For the lab test, a 750-milliliter bottle of XanGo was shipped to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute at Corvallis. The institute measured its antioxidant strength against store-bought juices.
On a scale of molecular weight, XanGo's antioxidants measured 14,884 "micromoles" per liter - slightly higher than cranberry juice, but lower than black cherry and less than half the power of blueberry juice. Apple juice finished last.
Antioxidants are substances added to many foods and even soap in the belief they can slow down the damage oxidation can do to cells.
XanGo has been warned by the FDA for claiming that mangosteen could ward off diseases. The company insists those claims were printed by a third party on a brochure at a recruitment seminar and it's not responsible for them.