Maybe you heard about Athletic Greens in an episode of “Pod Save America” or between horror stories on “Crime Junkie.” Maybe you’ve heard an ad for it on Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast, or Conan O’Brien’s or, if that’s more your style, Joe Rogan’s. You might even have heard about it in a New York Times podcast, like The Daily.
“The secret to making a successful podcast is that you have to use Athletic Greens,” joked writer and editor Clint Carter. in a tweet.
For a company that’s been around for over a decade, it seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Athletic Greens aggressively advertises (and sells) just one product: AG1, a moss-colored powder that costs $99 for a 30-serving bag and claims to be “everything you really need, really.”
But it’s not a meal replacement or pre- or post-workout drink, as the brand name suggests. AG1 promises “75 whole-food vitamins, minerals, superfoods, probiotics and adaptogens” in just one scoop. The ingredient list is biblically long and riddled with parentheses, its components categorized by wellness buzzwords: “Alkaline, nutrient-dense raw superfood complex” (including spirulina, wheatgrass and broccoli flower), “Nutrient-rich extracts” (pea protein isolate, ashwagandha extract) and “Digestive Enzyme & Super Mushroom Complex” (such as food enzymes and mushroom powders).
Simply put, it’s a drinkable multivitamin and probiotic.
Inside the elegant emerald packaging – designed, it seems, to give its opening a ceremonial feel – is a bag of AG1 and a branded clear bottle. The instructions recommend mixing one 12-gram scoop of the powder with eight to 12 ounces of cold water and drinking the concoction on an empty stomach (“or as recommended by your healthcare practitioner”).
After a purchase, Athletic Greens sends customers an email suggesting ways to make the supplement taste better: add juice, mix it with plant milk, or mix it into a smoothie. Sweetened with stevia and flavored with pineapple and vanilla, the powder tastes exactly like its bran: like broccoli pretending to be a milkshake.
In a brand-sponsored TikTok, fitness influencer Callie Jardine uses AG1 to do what she calls her “hot girl green smoothie.” Adding green powder, she says in the video, helps with her “really intense digestive issues.” (Everyone knows hot girls have stomach issues.)
But Athletic Greens isn’t just for hot girls and athletes. Current customers are “50% female and 50% male” and between the ages of 20 and 70, the company said in an email, with the largest proportion of consumers between the ages of 30 and 50. The breadth of podcasts the product has appeared on makes one thing clear: Chris Ashenden, the founder of Athletic Greens, wants everyone to drink his product.
“There’s this cultural phenomenon where people want to be in control of their own health,” said Mr Ashenden, an entrepreneur from New Zealand, where AG1 is produced. “And I don’t think the genie goes back into the bottle.”
As Covid-19 spread in March 2020, sales of multivitamins in the United States increased by more than 50% compared to the same period the previous year, and the supplement industry was valued at 151.9 billion dollars in 2021 by Grand View Research, a market research company. In January it was announced that Athletic Greens, which Mr Ashenden launched in 2010, had raised $115 million in venture capital and the company’s valuation had reached $1.2 billion.
Influencer partnerships on TikTok, along with podcasts, appear to be a big priority for brand marketing – posts with the hashtag #agpartner proliferated on the platform following the funding announcement and were viewed over 38 million times.
“It would literally show up on all my social media,” said Lexi Fadel, a 27-year-old physical therapist in Los Angeles. After battling hormonal acne and bloating, she said, “I was willing to try anything.” Influencers convinced her that AG1 was the answer. Ms. Fadel bought AG1 twice – despite the taste. “Not the best,” she said. “It was to my advantage, so I forced him down.”
After three months without changes, she decided to give it up. “I eat enough greens on my own,” she said.
There is nothing new about people seeking control over their health, and the marketing of food and beverages as complete health solutions is not a new phenomenon: the predecessors of the one-stop-shop include Soylent, adored by the bio-hacking tech bros, and Daily Harvest, a smoothie company. and influencer darling recently embroiled in a recall scandal.
The purported benefits of AG1 are vague enough to compel gullible consumers. It “promotes gut health”, “supports immunity”, “boosts energy” and “helps recovery”, the company claims. Of course, there are 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 overriding drive to buy something like this isn’t to feel good enough about your body,” said Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and author whose forthcoming book focuses on the pitfalls of the wellness industry. be. “It’s a slippery slope. You feel bad about yourself, you want to optimize yourself, and you think you can do it through these feel-good freaks, like Athletic Greens or Soylent or intermittent fasting.
At the heart of our obsession with wellness and the proliferation of these products, said Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and author of the book “Unapologetic Eating,” is the very human fear of death and the desire for control. The wellness industry perpetuates both. “It can make people feel like their health is 100% in their control,” she said. “But it’s not.”
“We know what happens when we eat the whole fruit or the whole vegetable,” Ms Rumsey said. “It’s not as clear when they’re broken down into compounds in these powders.”
So how, in the rapidly expanding and largely unregulated world of wellness, can a consumer make an informed choice?
Those who can afford to experiment with something like Athletic Greens – like Ms Fadel – are probably eating enough fruit and vegetables, Ms Harrison said.
“Most people don’t need any supplements, whether green powders or pill supplements.”