Athletic Greens as More Wellness Nonsense

Excerpt – For a company that’s been around for more than a decade, it seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Athletic Greens aggressively advertises (and sells) only one product: AG1, a moss-toned powder that costs $99 for a 30-serving bag and claims to be “all you really need, really.”

But it isn’t a meal replacement nor is it a pre- or post-workout drink, as the brand’s name implies. AG1 promises “75 vitamins, minerals, whole-food sourced superfoods, probiotics and adaptogens” in one scoop. The ingredient list is biblically long and rife with parentheses, its components categorized by wellness buzzwords: “Alkaline, Nutrient-Dense Raw Superfood Complex” (including spirulina, wheatgrass and broccoli flower powder), “Nutrient Dense Extracts” (pea protein isolate, ashwagandha extract) and “Digestive Enzyme & Super Mushroom Complex” (like dietary enzymes and mushroom powders).

Simply put, it is a drinkable multivitamin and probiotic. [..]

As Covid-19 spread in March 2020, sales for multivitamins in the United States rose by more than 50 percent compared with the same period the previous year, and the supplement industry was valued at $151.9 billion in 2021 by Grand View Research, a market research company. In January, it was announced that Athletic Greens, which Mr. [Chris] Ashenden started in 2010, had raised $115 million in venture capital, and that the company’s valuation had hit $1.2 billion.

Influencer partnerships on TikTok, along with podcasts, seem to be a high priority for the brand’s marketing — posts bearing the hashtag #agpartner proliferated on the platform after the funding announcement and have been viewed more than 38 million times. [..]

There’s nothing novel about people craving control of their health, and marketing food and beverages as comprehensive health solutions is not a new phenomenon: One-stop-shop predecessors include Soylent, beloved by bio-hacking tech bros, and Daily Harvest, a smoothie company and influencer darling recently embroiled in a recall scandal.

AG1’s purported benefits are vague enough to compel credulous consumers. It “promotes gut health,” “supports immunity,” “boosts energy” and “helps recovery,” the company claims. Of course, there’s fine print: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” [..]

“The overarching drive to buy something like that is not feeling good enough about your body,” said Christy Harrison, a dietitian and author whose forthcoming book focuses on the traps of the wellness industry. “It’s a slippery slope. You feel bad about yourself, you want to self-optimize and you think that you can do that through this wellness phenomena, like Athletic Greens or Soylent or intermittent fasting.”

At the core of our obsession with wellness, and the proliferation of these products, said Alissa Rumsey, a dietitian and author of the book “Unapologetic Eating,” is the very human fear of death and desire for control. The wellness industry perpetuates both. “It can make people feel like their health is 100 percent in their control,” she said. “But it’s not.”

Full article, B Hughes, New York Times, 2022.7.8