For fitness enthusiasts and athletes, GNC (General Nutrition Centers) is a household name—and for good reason.
GNC is a premier nutritional supplement retailer.
The company lists over 9,000 locations globally.
Athletes, hobbyists, students, health nuts, beauticians, foodies—GNC offers products for every practice, discipline, or application regarding mental and physical health.
Department offerings include products for performance, digestion, weight gain and loss, skin care, longevity, and cognitive enhancement.
However, it doesn’t take long to find reviews criticizing GNC for its high prices.
To understand why GNC prices run so high, especially when compared to their competitors, a number of factors need to be considered.
Why Is GNC So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. GNC Store Incentives & Rewards
GNC offers a tiered incentive program (myGNC/GNC PRO) for customers who opt in through their website, mobile app, or an in-store associate.
For eligible program members, each dollar spent rewards one point of in-store credit.
A total of 150 points will equate to $5 in value.
GNC’s PRO member package includes additional incentives such as unique discounts, free shipping on orders, and other exclusive saving opportunities.
Finding deals in the nutrition and supplement industry is a constant hunt—usually web-based. Knowing when and where special sales are happening can be difficult.
GNC provides a centralized one-stop service.
Customers can be notified ahead of time, providing long- and short-term sales schedules for products.
Customer notifications occur on a “first-look” basis, meaning myGNC and PRO members will have knowledge of new or high-demand product releases ahead of the average buyer.
Between the exclusive offerings, free shipping, and the cash-back points system, GNC customers may find themselves saving money on products despite higher price points compared to market alternatives.
2. Market Demand For Quality Nutritional Ingredients
The use of quality ingredients is a reasonable expectation for products designed to supplement physical and mental wellness.
GNC markets its products on a promise of high integrity regarding research, development, and testing procedures.
The supplement retailer claims to perform a minimum of 150 quality checks during product manufacturing.
Additionally, GNC reports spending millions on research and development efforts by Ph.D. credentialed teams.
Alternative and smaller nutritional supplement companies might lack the resources to leverage quality assurance and product development at GNC’s scale.
GNC’s high degree of quality control, ingredient sourcing, and product research is built into the price of each GNC-branded product.
However, GNC regularly offers products created by other companies in their stores.
These non-GNC items are generally priced by their on-label company, but otherwise meet GNC’s quality criteria.
Nutritional and dietary supplements do not require FDA approval prior to reaching the market.
In place of federal regulation, GNC relies heavily on consumer trust and unrelenting quality control practices.
In application, lower priced products sold by competitors might not adhere to the same level of quality assurance as GNC.
For concerned customers, GNC is widely accepted as a reliable and well-established retailer for nutritional supplementation.
Trust adds a significant level of value to the price of every GNC product.
3. Name Recognition & Brand Deals
GNC is the leading worldwide retailer of nutritional and wellness supplements.
Accordingly, supplement brands are highly motivated to acquire placement in GNC stores.
A product being stocked by GNC shops endows a level of authority, presumed quality, and trust that might otherwise be lacking.
For GNC-branded products, consumers are not just paying for the product.
They’re paying for the quality assurance and branding behind the product, too.
Further, GHOST, Nugenix, ON Optimum Nutrition, and a number of other alternative brands can surely credit a significant portion of their success to the accessibility and availability of their products facilitated by GNC.
However, as digital, direct-to-consumer marketing strategies build a larger foothold, brands might begin to experience diminishing returns on such partnerships.
As it stands, GNC’s diverse product portfolio and strategic product line acquisitions have likely handed down part of the cost premium to consumers.
4. GNC Is A Trusted Name In The Market
The supplement industry is a $33 billion goliath.
It comes as no surprise that many companies seek to capitalize on market trends, often leading to misbranding and false advertisements.
In direct terms, advertising must accurately reflect well-regarded, peer-reviewed science.
For example, per the FTC, any on-label claims made about specific results (i.e. increased strength performance) must be linked to empirical studies confirming dosage, activity, and usage.
Additionally, on-label ingredient listings must adhere to proper standards for “dietary ingredients.”
Dietary ingredients are things such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
They carry a distinct metabolic and dietary impact.
Private lawsuits are regularly levied against supplement brands for discrepancies related to mislabeling and false advertising.
Unsurprisingly, GNC has faced numerous obstacles on this front over the company’s 85-year history.
While this may qualify as an ethical concern for many, supplement companies develop products at a rapid pace and are under constant scrutiny.
Continuous corrective action and risk analysis is crucial to moderating the wild west of supplement marketing.
GNC’s giant status in the industry allows for immediate action to be taken, to take accountability, and to re-double quality control efforts.
5. Manufacturing & Distribution Costs
There’s no way to build an international enterprise without surmounting significant logistical challenges along the way.
GNC is a major distributor of nutritional and wellness products not just in the US, but Mexico, South Africa, Chile, South Korea, and more than 40 other countries abroad.
Inherent to the scale of GNC’s business network is a constant pressure to meet dozens (if not hundreds) of differing regulatory standards for their products.
Meeting these commercial needs requires research, funding, and watchdog staff to remain vigilant of changing regulatory landscapes.
Further complicating the manufacturing process, regulatory changes have to be reflected every step of the way.
Laws regarding supplements regularly change with new research.
If this happens during a product development phase, an entire product line might be wiped out or invalidated by fresh regulations.
As additional mandatory quality checks are introduced and become more rigorous, the manufacturing line can be slowed down even more.
A legal issue with one product might bring into question the overarching supplement category or the method of manufacturing itself.
These back-end struggles can grow into massive financial sinks.
In 2019, mitigating various financial and logistic difficulties, GNC opted to partner with IVC (International Vitamin Corporation).
The deal involved GNC selling a large section of their manufacturing infrastructure to IVC in an exchange valued at $170 million.
It’s clear GNC is willing to commit tremendous amounts of capital to solving its manufacturing obstacles.
Customers rarely hear anything about this side of the business, but its impact on the price of end-products can’t be ignored.
6. Fitness Culture Is Booming
When people talk fitness, often images of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, short shorts, and pastel colors come to mind.
The “Golden Age” of fitness in the ‘70s and ‘80s heralded a massive upsurge in public mindfulness regarding strength training, cardiovascular training, and especially supplementation.
In recent years, markets have again noted trends shifting toward interests in fitness culture.
Fitness influencers flood social media—Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok—offering exercise advice, programming, nutritional advisement, personal training, and more.
Sporting goods manufacturers like Adidas and Nike have funneled millions of dollars into outfitting strength and endurance athletes: Crossfitters, Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, and ultramarathoners.
Only 10 years ago, such endeavors were barely considered hobbies, much less fully fledged sports with massive audience turnouts and fanbases.
The blossom of the “new age” in fitness intuitively brings with it a demand for nutritional supplements.
Protein, amino acids (BCAAs), omega-3 oils, pre-workouts, post-workouts, performance enhancers, recovery aids—the list of products a single athlete or hobbyist might seek is substantial.
GNC’s business structure has worked to target and respond to the growing interest in fitness.
Shop associates are able to offer specialized advice and recommendations based on the information customers provide.
In this way, GNC drives extra value by optimizing the supplement selections of their buyers.
7. GNC Sales Model
Modern market dynamics, with the pivot toward direct-to-consumer and digital options, call for value and convenience.
Interest in fitness culture has surged, leading to a jump in supplement sales.
How do customers make the decision to shop with GNC over digital markets or direct distributors?
The answer lies in GNC’s built-in services at the point of sale.
In person, customers are personally guided and advised by store associates.
Online, GNC’s website offers a number of modules and associated resources to narrow down specialized sets of products to meet customer needs.
Store associates are paid bonuses based on store sales goals.
This is somewhat unorthodox for a large retailer.
The pay structure means employees are incentivized to grow in their knowledge of products and sales acumen, skills that have distinct market values.
In the past, associates and managers were paid commission on direct sales.
This policy was changed sometime after 2017.
GNC’s efforts to training skilled employees and offering detailed resources to their customers imply a cost-of-business that is not experienced by purely digital or direct-to-consumer supplement distributors.
As a result, customers pay for service in addition to the product.
8. Satisfaction Is Guaranteed (Or Your Money Back)
GNC provides a number of guarantees on its product lines.
Satisfaction is at the top of the list.
If a customer is not pleased with a product, they may return to it the store or by mail (if a digital purchase) within 30 days.
GNC offers a full refund on these returned products.
The products can be used or unused—what matters is customer satisfaction.
One stipulation is that the products must be GNC-brand items.
Off-brand items require a valid receipt at the time of return.
GNC-brand items may be returned with or without a receipt.
GNC’s return policy helps to offset any uncertainty on the consumer’s end.
While the product may be expensive, the customer can decide for themselves if their level of satisfaction measures up to the expenditure.
Putting the ball in the consumer’s court means buyers negotiate with themselves over the price.
There’s less harm in taking the risk on a spendy item when a quick-and-easy satisfaction guarantee is in place.
9. Price Match Guarantee
In conjunction with their satisfaction guarantee, GNC also offers a price match service.
Once again, GNC puts autonomy in the customer’s hands.
Buyers can hunt for the best prices on various products themselves.
This enables GNC to price competitively against the market.
If there is a significant difference in the price of an item between retailers, customers can benefit from the discrepancy.
GNC stores can then choose to take action and adjust their prices appropriately.
Still, guarantees like this are not always at the front of customers’ minds when they are nearing the point of sale.
Once a customer sets foot in a store or places an item in their digital cart, they are closer to buying at the listed price than researching better deals.
Additionally, GNC’s on-brand products are likely to be flatly priced regardless of distributor.
Price matching likely wouldn’t provide much, if any, savings on GNC brand items.
Unfortunately for GNC, the static cost of their products is often the primary complaint.
10. Historically Low Level Of Competition
GNC’s brick-and-mortar locations are strategically placed in high traffic shopping centers.
Malls, outlets, corner stops—many locations are fair game.
Using savvy commercial real estate practices and positioning, GNC has made itself highly visible and effortlessly accessible to customers globally.
Despite setbacks caused by the COVID pandemic, GNC shared 88% market dominance with its primary competitor, The Vitamin Shoppe, in Q4.
This means as much as 88% of all nutritional supplement sales occurred through the two companies.
The remaining 22% of sales occurred via direct-to-consumer sales and other retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Fred Meyer, and smaller wellness stores.
GNC’s apparent dominion over the nutritional supplement market has granted them a great deal of influence on the price action of various products.
The company’s influence extends into setting the standards and expectations for consumers on an international scale.
It’s possible GNC’s low degree of competition may not hold much longer.
Despite market dominance, the company filed for bankruptcy in mid-2020.
The financial difficulties faced by the wellness giant might open doors for digital distributors to supplant large corners of the market.
Amazon and countless direct-to-consumer distributors pose significant threats as GNC works to reorganize its business structure.
Are GNC Products Worth The Cost?
A casual look around the web will reveal a lively debate surrounding the value of nutritional supplements and the industry at large.
Whole-food advocates, naturalists, gastroenterologists, nutritionists, athletes, and metabolic experts the world over have fought to get their word in about supplementation.
Are supplements effective?
Are they detrimental?
Are they digested normally?
Are they fully bioavailable?
Can they be toxic?
Are they a waste of money?
Are there enough regulations?
The questions abound.
Worse, lawsuits against supplement brands are everywhere.
Mislabeling, false advertising, or flat-out predatory marketing are regular faces in the nutrition and wellness industry.
How can someone know a product is safe?
How can someone trust what’s on a product’s label?
GNC presents a reputation built on 85 years of service and innovation in the supplementation market.
Where many companies exist in an obscure background, GNC has been centerfield providing industry-standard researched products.
Countless affiliates, athletes, and hobbyists stand by GNC as their go-to.
In an industry often criticized for its lack of transparency, that grassroots trust and loyalty cannot be undervalued.
In terms of deciding the worth of GNC products, you must evaluate your goal, your purpose for using a supplement to reach that goal, and why you believe the supplement will be effective.
A key to understanding supplements is that they do not replace ordinary nutrition.
Supplements are additions meant to optimize, bolster, or improve the actions someone is already taking.
If an individual’s diet is not already in check, they are under-sleeping, they are under-working or over-working, they are excessively stressed, or they cannot be consistent with their supplement intake, it is highly likely that any supplement will be a waste of money.
However, with intelligent usage—and incremental steps taken toward one’s goal—supplements may offer a profound boost.
In this context, GNC can be viewed as a long-standing provider of high-quality products which have out-competed countless brands.
The level of trust and quality assurance necessary to achieve GNC’s level of market dominance shouldn’t be underplayed.
At the very least, buyers can be certain that GNC products are up to general market standards and expectations.
With the addition of store associate support, satisfaction guarantees, price matching services, membership deals, and discrete offers, GNC’s value may be well-justified.