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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

New tea and shake shop opens in Middlebury, sells Herbalife products

The once vacant storefront at 56 College Street is empty no longer. It is now home to Ignite Nutrition, a shop selling protein shakes, protein-based coffee and energy teas — and they are using products from Herbalife Nutrition, a well-known multi-level marketing (MLM) company.  

The Campus has confirmed that the business is selling Herbalife products by looking through the items available to order on their app, “Engage,” the seller for which is listed in the App Store as “Herbalife Ltd, Inc.” Ignite Nutrition offers Herbalife probiotics, aloe and flavorings as add-ins to the drinks available for order through “Engage.” And a recent TikTok on the business’s account, @ignitenutrition802, showed them making a drink with Herbalife’s “High Protein Iced Coffee Drink Mix.”

Co-owners Karen Dumas and BobbiJo Jones spoke to The Campus in an earlier interview focused on the opening of their new business, but they declined an in-person follow-up interview and did not respond to three emails requesting comment about Ignite Nutrition’s use of Herbalife products.

Multi-level marketing, also known as network marketing or direct marketing, is a sales strategy where products cannot be purchased through retail stores, but rather through privately-owned shops that buy the product in bulk. Accordingly, Herbalife distributors — and other MLM distributors — are not employees of the larger corporation, but customers who encourage patrons of their storefront to do the same. 

In Herbalife’s case, customers — or “members” as they are sometimes referred to — are encouraged to open “nutritional clubs.” At these storefronts, distributors typically sell Herbalife products and encourage other customers to get involved. 

Founded in 1980 by Mark Hughes and originally endorsed by public figures such as Chuck Norris and Madeleine Albright, the dietary supplement company has generated a considerable amount of controversy over the years.

In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Herbalife for participating in “unfair and deceptive acts or practices.” The lawsuit settled with Herbalife paying $200 million to distributors who were misled to believe they would earn a substantial income. 

The FTC lawsuit addressed the practices of the Herbalife Nutrition company; there is nothing illegal about shops selling Herbalife products. In reality, prior to 2016 the majority of Herbalife distributors either made no profit or lost money, according to the official complaint filed by the FTC. 

Herbalife was also forced to restructure certain business operations that the FTC found were more focused on recruiting distributors than on the sale of the product itself. 

Owners Dumas and Jones told The Campus more about their new business, which opened on Aug. 18, in a previous interview, before The Campus was aware of Ignite’s use of Herbalife products.

Before opening Ignite Nutrition, Dumas and Jones spent a combined 61 years working for McDonald’s. Dumas was a supervisor in charge of five restaurants across Vermont and New Hampshire and Jones was a store manager at the McDonald’s in Middlebury.  

“We decided we wanted to go off on our own,” Dumas, who first trained Jones as a junior manager nearly fifteen years ago, told The Campus on Thursday, Sept. 15. “We did this because it’s more laidback, it’s relaxing. We [can] talk to our guests and take the time we wanted to.”

Neither Dumas nor Jones is originally from Middlebury. However, the connections they already had from working in the area and the store’s central location between the college and downtown Middlebury made the decision to open Ignite at 56 College Street an obvious choice.

The menu includes 30 different flavors of protein shakes, each of which has 24 grams of protein and six to 10 grams of sugar. It also features iced coffees with protein and a large assortment of sugar-free iced teas, which can be made to four different caffeine levels — “lit,” “boosted,” “half caff” or no caffeine. 

But by calling some of their protein smoothies “Meal-Replacement Shakes,” Ignite’s menu has garnered the attention of the student group Middlebury Students Promoting Eating-Disorder Awareness and Knowledge (MIDD S.P.E.A.K.).

MIDD S.P.E.A.K. president Samara Gordon Wexler ’23.5 told The Campus that she will likely never step foot in the establishment. While she has no complaints with the products themselves, Gordon Wexler said that advertising the shakes as “meal replacement” might be triggering for students struggling with eating disorders. 

Gordon Wexler added that meals should be at least 600–800 calories, if not more, but Ignite’s shakes are just 180–230 calories. 

In response to a follow-up email from The Campus, Dumas said that while she and Jones are not nutritionists, they want to provide an enticing option for students hoping to supplement their healthy habits.

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“Healthy eating habits are not just one meal,” Dumas wrote. “You need to have routines in place the whole day. Healthy eating needs to be balanced with exercise. There is no one time fix. You can use our shakes as an after-workout protein recovery.”

A student who went to Ignite Nutrition said he was asked to give his email address and phone number upon purchasing a menu item.

Sam Lipin

Sam Lipin '23.5 returns this fall for his third semester as an editor for the Sports section. A Classics major with an Italian minor, Sam worked as a reporting intern this summer at the Addison Independent. He has hosted four radio shows through WRMC and tells his friends he plays rugby though he has not been to a practice in a year and a half.