Herbalife President Des Walsh said the company does not target any specific demographic. The company's popularity among Latinos exploded in recent years, he said, when U.S. distributors imported the nutrition club concept from Mexico, which is second to the United States in Herbalife sales.
"This wasn't a company focus on the Latino community," Walsh said. "This was the Latino community in the United States seeing and hearing of the tremendous success of nutrition clubs in Mexico and then seeking to replicate that here."
Its marketing efforts do hit the Latino community. The company recently signed a 10-year, $44-million sponsorship of the Los Angeles Galaxy professional soccer team, which has a massive Latino fan base. Each year, it holds a national convention in Spanish called "Extravaganza Latina."
Before nutrition clubs started in Mexico, the only way for consumers to buy Herbalife products was in bulk containers to be used at home. A cheaper alternative is being served up at the nutrition clubs, where consumers can buy single servings and drink them in social settings, surrounded by other people with similar weight-loss goals.
This concept has taken off among Latinos, who are taught at an early age that natural remedies such as herbs and juices are a better option than U.S.-style medicine, said Alexandro Jose Gradilla, chair of the Chicano Studies Department at Cal State Fullerton. That makes Herbalife products popular among immigrants.
Selling the products for profit is also a good fit for Latinos because it allows distributors to take advantage of relationships within the close-knit immigrant community, Gradilla said.
Herbalife spokeswoman Barbara Henderson said in a statement that the company "follows all applicable laws in dealing with distributors, whether Latino or not," but she did not elaborate further.