“Goodbye pills. Hello real vitamins.”
That’s the tagline for Tespo, a new high-tech vitamin dispenser that turns powdered nutrients into clear “liquid vitamins”—all with the touch of a button.
The $150 dispenser—available only online—aims to provide “a better way to take, absorb, and manage your daily vitamin routine.” The company says the liquid eliminates “unnecessary ingredients” like artificial coloring, producing the “purest vitamins” you can take.
Compact and silver, the dispenser bears a striking resemblance to Keurig coffee maker—but instead of pods full of coffee beans, you get discs full of vitamins. The similarities, according to the company themselves, are no accident.
“The Tespo dispenser was certainly inspired by single-serve coffee brewing systems,” Ted Mills the company’s co-founder and head of innovation, tells The Daily Beast. “The demand for these coffee brewing systems demonstrated what we already suspected—people want something that is easy to use and looks great on the kitchen counter.”
The logic behind Tespo is, unsurprisingly, a little different. Rather than increase the efficiency of consumption, Tespo is aiming to revolutionize the way Americans take vitamins. “We think pills are pretty archaic,” says Mills. “They require fillers to maintain their shape, and they’re not easily absorbed by the body… The body is able to absorb liquid vitamins more easily.”
On a page titled “Truth,” the company says nearly 50 percent of people are not compliant with their vitamin regiment, and that Tespo is here to help. They also say it’s estimated that “90 percent of all vitamins supplements contain ingredients that are nothing more than manufacturing fillers.” It’s unclear where either statistic came from.
Even more unclear is whether or not liquid vitamins are, in fact, more easily absorbed by the body. The company does not include links to any outside sources—and scientific studies on the topic are hard (if not impossible) to find.
Evidence aside, Tespo’s concept rests on the belief that pills and gummies are outdated, inefficient, and even unhealthy. That the “contaminants” in pill vitamins not only hinder the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients, but can cause other negative side effects, like “upset stomachs.” Tespo’s plan then is not just to provide an alternative to pills but to get “rid of” them, “forever.”
Given how many Americans take supplements each day, eliminating pills entirely is an ambitious goal. According to a Gallup poll from December 2013, more than half of adults in this country take a daily multivitamin—a number that increases to 68 percent among 50-64-year-olds. The result is a highly lucrative market worth tens of billions of dollars, one that raked in $32 billion in 2012 alone.
While liquid vitamins exist, they can cost upwards of triple the price of a regular multivitamin, with some providing 15 servings for the price of 60. That’s exactly where Tespo hopes to come in. “We’re providing consumers with all the benefits of a liquid vitamin without the hassle or bad taste,” says Mills. “We have made the daily routine more fun, easier to remember and have created a much more efficient way to deliver supplements at a lower cost than traditional premium supplements.”
Part of the appeal, it seems, is picking out one of six tailored vitamin regiments: energy, focus, sleep, women’s multi, men’s multi, and children’s multi. Each disc comes with 31 doses in a specific color—pink for women, blue for boys. On the company’s homepage, the reviews of the product are glowing.
“I love my dispenser and take my vitamin shot every morning and love the auto delivery of the vitamin disks every month!” writes Erin P. “I am loving mine!! Can’t imagine living without it!! Vitamins taste like drinking a shot of orange juice!!!” writes Dar C, who like most commenters on the company page, gave it five stars.
On the site’s Facebook page, reviews are less positive. Several users report that the dispenser broke just months after receiving it. Others criticize the company’s use of folic acid—which some doctors believe may be dangerous when taken long term. To the company’s credit, it did reply to those with broken machines and said it was sending new ones and also said it’s actively working on replacing the folic acid.
Still, the science behind the product itself seems murky—which, in the supplement industry, is nothing new. Since supplements are treated as food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, less rigorous testing is required for their approval. Third-party clinical studies are one way to check the safety and efficacy of a product, something that Tespo says it has not yet commissioned.
Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who has studied vitamins extensively, is less concerned about the vitamins than the implications of such a product. Namely, that its cool décor and trendy concept will attract people who weren’t previously taking vitamins—and don’t need to be.
“If you’re eating heavily processed or farm-to-table food, you don’t need a multivitamin. No healthy American needs to supplement their diet with a multivitamin,” Cohen tells The Daily Beast. “Products like this are part of a sleek advertising push to encourage people who don’t need multivitamins to join the vitamin craze. Spending more time at home cooking your own real food is the best way to go.”
Of course that isn’t to say that vitamins are entirely useless. Cohen recommends that individuals with a deficiency in a certain vitamin take that individual vitamin. He says multivitamins are a good idea for people with illnesses that “profoundly affect the body’s ability to absorb food”—but for healthy people, they may not be as vital as they seem.