If you’ve spent any time reading labels on dietary supplements, you’ve likely come across the words “proprietary blend.” And if you’ve done any online reading about supplements, you’ve heard about how they allow brands to disguise the actual amount of various ingredients, so the consumer doesn’t know whether they’re getting an effective dose.
Proprietary blends can be bad – but they can also be used to reward innovation (more about that later).
The Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Sec. 101.36 states: “…amount by weight specified for the proprietary blend shall be the total weight of all other dietary ingredients contained in the proprietary blend…” And they “…shall be declared in descending order of predominance by weight…”
What this means, in laymen’s terms, is that a group of ingredients can all have their weights added up, and only the total weight disclosed. Therefore, sub-effective doses can be hidden in the formula. In other words, a formula that has a six-gram proprietary blend of three ingredients might have two grams of each ingredient or it might have five grams of the first ingredient + 500 milligrams (each) of the next two. There’s really no way to know the exact amount of the ingredients.
In formulas with established ingredients that have well-known effective doses, a proprietary blend makes no legitimate sense, generally speaking. So if an eight-gram proprietary blend includes creatine and Beta-alanine, we’d hope that it was five grams and three grams, respectively. However, creatine is far less expensive than BA, so it would be cheaper to manufacture this hypothetical product with a dose of seven grams and one gram, creatine to BA. With a proprietary blend, you’d never know what you were getting. Unfortunately, many companies choose this route when manufacturing products, hiding more expensive ingredients in a proprietary blend of ingredients that have a fraction of the expense.
But proprietary blends are also a good thing, and they’re not all bad, despite what some people say. They can help reward innovation and give a viable market advantage to companies who choose to innovate. Here’s how:
Several years ago, Protein Factory and I released the first Fadogia agrestis product in the world. The dose was clearly labeled, and we didn’t use a proprietary blend. The result was that within a year or two, there was more than one competing product on the market, each with the same dose as ours. I seriously doubt any of these people did the same research as me, and it’s more likely than not that they just looked at our dose and copied it as soon as they found a source for the herb. Hiding the dose in a proprietary blend would have given us a market advantage by ensuring that our competition would have either had to invest the same time and research, or come out with a product that didn’t have the same dose (which would potentially have been less effective).
So how can you spot the good proprietary blends from the bad ones?
As a consumer, you should be educated about the ingredients being used in a product that you’re thinking about buying. Are any of the ingredients new or innovative? Could that be the reason they’re in a proprietary blend? Is it conceivable that this manufacturer has discovered a synergistic ratio? Or are we talking about an ingredient combination that’s already a decade old, being peddled by Bro’s on Instagram?
As I said in the beginning, proprietary blends can be bad – but they can also be used to reward innovation. And the more companies that innovate, the more new and effective ingredients we will see on the market. So yeah, like most federal laws and regulations, we can find a substantial amount of both good and bad in the ones governing proprietary blends. In the end, you need to be an educated consumer, and it all comes down to the company you’re buying from, and whether they’re trying to use them to protect legitimate intellectual property, or to deceive the consumer
Alex Rogers is a supplement manufacturing expert. He has been formulating, consulting, & manufacturing dietary supplements since 1998. Alex invented protein customization in 1998 & was the first company to allow consumers to create their own protein blends. He helped create the first supplement to contain natural follistatin, invented whey protein with egg lecithin, & recently imported the world’s first 100% hydrolyzed whey.