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Xoçai. The “Healthy” Chocolate

Skepchick

Rebecca Watson

August 24, 2012

Xoçai! Exotic, enticing, and unpronounceable to monolingual English tongues—the perfect name for an expensive chocolate product sold exclusively through multi-level marketing (MLM) using dodgy health claims.

I’ll save you the frustration of continually reading a word you may not be able to sound out: it’s "show-sigh," as in "SHOW me the evidence that this candy bar can do what you claim" and "SIGH, I guess I’ll see myself out."

Xoçai chocolate is sold by MXI Corporation in a variety of products, from solid chocolate nuggets to weight-loss shakes. MXI’s website carefully avoids making any solid claims about the exact health benefits of its healthy chocolate, sticking instead to vague phrases like "antioxidant powerhouse," "diabetic-friendly," "health-promoting" and "all-natural." On the "science" page, the text reads, "science now tells us that cacao and dark, healthy chocolate can support the health of most of the body’s major systems." One might guess from this that you can replace all your blood with chocolate and still mostly function, but I’m unable to find any studies to back this up.

Those claims pale in comparison to the assertions of Xoçai distributors, though. Xoçai is sold using multi-level marketing, which is like a pyramid scheme only legal, since there’s a product to be bought and sold. It works the same way, though: you sell the chocolate to your friends and convince them to start selling chocolate, too. Then, you make a percentage of everything they sell, and a percentage of everything sold by anyone they recruit. It’s a great idea provided you have a lot of friends with a lot of money who really love chocolate.

But it’s the distributors, like you and those you recruit, who do all the dirty work of suggesting that Xoçai fights cancer, slows aging, promotes weight loss, prevents cavities, and acts as a mood-stabilizer. They support their claims by citing studies funded by MXI, including this twelve-week weight loss "study" of 50 people that required them to consume no more than 1,200 calories a day (1,500 for men) and exercise at least 20 minutes a day at least 3 times per week while replacing two meals per day with Xoçai shakes. Shockingly, the weight came right off. Was it the eating less and exercising more, or the chocolate?

Other scientific "evidence" cited is anything showing even a slight possibility of a health benefit of antioxidants, which are in fact packed into Xoçai. Distributors make a great fuss over Xoçai’s high ORAC—oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of antioxidants. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that a food’s ORAC has any effect whatsoever on human health, as stated quite clearly by the USDA.

In case you’re starting to think this is some kind of scam, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Searching "Xoçai scam" gets you examples like this one, in which you are informed of the many "pros" of becoming a Xoçai distributor and the only "con" is that the reviewer only has one mouth with which to eat the delicious, delicious chocolate.

And who could possibly criticize a chocolate so beloved by no less an authority than a Real Housewife (not the real kind—I mean the kind on TV):

One early convert was Robin Cofer, an ordained swami and ballet dancer who lives on the 90th floor of Trump World Tower. She signed up in August and said she has about 20 executives—high-volume sellers—working beneath her. One of the friends she signed was Jill Zarin, one of the stars of the show "Real Housewives of New York City."

"Robin is a very holistic light person," said Ms. Zarin, a former Avon lady (at 14, on Long Island). "She says, ‘Jill, I have to tell you about this thing I found, this chocolate, it’s unbelievable, and not only that, you can make money.’ I said, ‘You know what, Robin? Here’s my credit card. You’re my friend, I trust you, sign me up.’ "

Still, there are critics of the healthy chocolate revolution. Several years ago, a Norwegian blogger wrote a post critical of Xoçai health claims as well as the way it's sold, via MLM. Another blogger on the same site also guest-posted a piece questioning the chocolate claims.

There were some contentious comments, apparently, but nothing came of it until just this past April, when the blogger—who remains anonymous for his own protection—received a letter from Sjokoservice Norge, a member association for Xoçai sellers in Norway. They were angry that when Norwegians searched Xoçai, the blogger's critical post was at the top of the rankings. They threatened him with a seven-figure lawsuit (they didn't specify which seven figures) and also contacted his employer to point out that most of his posts go up during work hours.

Sjokoservice Norge also updated their website with a photo of the blogger, his name, employer, home address, telephone number, and e-mail address, encouraging their members to contact him personally.

The next day, the blogger got another email from Sjokoservice Norge that included attachments such as a family tree, which included photos, names, occupations, birthdates, and addresses of the blogger's parents, siblings, and wife. It also included a Google map showing his residence.

The accompanying email read in part, "The last weeks the organization has received several e-mails from Norwegian Xoçai members, with the following attachments.

"From what we’ve been told this information is being sent out to ca. 9000 members in Norway alone, as well as your co-workers at [anonymous].

"It’s obvious someone has put a lot of effort in gathering this data. Who is responsible, and why information concerning your family and home address has been sent out to our members all around Norway is something on which we don’t wish to speculate, but in the light of the information we have received we assume the probability of you receiving quite a few inquiries from Norwegian Xoçai members is high."

That's the English translation via Marcus Glenton Prescott and Gunnar Roland Tjomlid at the blog Unfiltered Perception, where you can find all the emails in question.

The anonymous blogger responded to Sjokoservice Norge by politely asking them to provide specifics about which of his statements they felt were incorrect.

The letter he received back from Sjokoservice Norge includes some remarkable quotes, like this:

In a closed group on Facebook your blog and person is currently the subject of heated discussion, where creative ideas are being put forth to stop your attack on the product Xoçai, the company MXI Corp. and the representatives of the company – once and for all.

Some also wish to gather a group of people to visit you at [place of residence] to discuss your blog face to face.

We have of course discouraged such action, but it’s out of our hands.

At this point, the blogger's employers were worried and asked him to remove the blog posts.

That would be the end of it, if only this weren't 2012 and we weren't talking about the Internet. Just like what happened to Stanislaw Burzynski, the Streisand Effect has come into play.

In addition to posting all the emails from Sjokoservice Norge, Gunnar Roland Tjomlid has reposted the two deleted posts while continuing to protect the identity of the original blogger. The story promptly went viral in Norway, making the leap from blogs to mainstream news articles and causing no small amount of unwanted attention for what Tjomlid has termed "the Norwegian Chocolate Mafia."

Tjomlid posted an update recently in which he also confirms that complaints were made to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority about Xoçai health claims. The agency reacted quickly, demanding that the distributors stop using false claims to push the chocolate. They responded by claiming that they are not employees of MXI Corp, which Tjomlid quickly debunked using their own copy. He’s now urging Norwegians to help report any misleading claims to the authorities by taking screenshots of websites. With a bit of dedication, it’s possible that the skeptics of Norway might either shut down Xoçai distributors or at least force them to clean up their act.

It would be great to see some intrepid American skeptics take up the same cause, but the danger here is much greater—I’ve seen those Real Housewives fight, and it isn’t pretty.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson's photo

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.