SUPERthrive formula remains a mystery

Vitamin Institute - Superthrive

Looking at the label for SUPERthrive, you may come away a bit confused as to what exactly it is and what exactly it does. Strange fragmented thoughts adorn the labeling, which is done in a kitschy throwback format better suited to a turn-of-the-century carnival barker than a scientifically proven product. Especially one that has been on the market for 71 years. Ironically, the labeling also claims to be just such a product.

Asked about the odd duality of the labeling and advertising, the 99-year-old creator of SUPERthrive Dr. John A. Thomson doesn’t make any bones about it

“It turns out that people in general in the advertising business consider that my advertising is cluttered and too loaded and not according to what they teach in art classes for advertisers. I just go ahead and do it my way and it sells better than anything else. As long as that continues as it does, I’ll realize that that speaks for itself and sympathize with the critics all the way to the bank,” laughs Thomson. “My ads all draw as far as I can figure, so that’s the purpose of them. I figure that those who want to have art-schtick type of advertising are sure privileged to do so. They’re the ones paying for their ads and I’m paying for mine. And the ones that I’m paying for are selling SUPERthrive. It does the job, and I’m happy.”

Related: SUPERthrive Originator Dr. John A.A. Thomson Recipient of Lifetime Environmental Awareness Award

Thomson does answer some of the pro ad writers’ criticisms. To those who say his ads look like they were written by a chemist, he says that he prefers that. But he confirms the guess of other trade executives that the reason he has so many exact reproductions of earlier ads is because they were all among the earlier inclusion of ads receiving 100 percent approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Thomson points out that in 1962, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s leading scientists studied all vitamin ingredient wording of labels, ads, publications, and over 100 government, university and commercial reports. They issued an official approval of all vitamin ingredient wording.

“In 1972, when that approval record had been buried in a USDA storage file in Virginia, I became concerned by legislation wording meant to handle weed killers and growth retardants,” Thomson says. “While the Pesticide Regulation Agency searched for Vitamin Institute’s approval, the general counsel of the U.S. Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee phrased the Plant Regulator Clarification Amendment to emphasize the fact that SUPERthrive, a non-toxic product, is intended by law to be available and not to require the disclosure of its proprietary formula.”

Congress published letters from 35 associations and names with occupations of over 3,000 professionals stating that nothing else works so well as SUPERthrive in support of the Plant Regulator Clarification

Amendment. A total of 500 park system heads wrote that nothing else works as well as SUPERthrive.
The amendment became law and has been ever since, and the earlier approval, still good, was located.

When the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee general counsel notified Thomson of the passage of the revised statute, he told Thomson, “The amendment is right. There was no flim-flam about it. The agriculturalists all supported you.”

SUPERthrive certainly isn’t shy about touting its own historical achievements. One quote from the SUPERthrive website claims SUPERthrive “helped win World War II.” Perhaps the hyperbole is a bit over the top, but there is no doubt SUPERthrive has a long history on the market. Since 1940, in fact. That’s a long time for the open market to test and cull products, and SUPERthrive is still standing. If longevity lends any credence to legitimacy, SUPERthrive has it in spades.

“It primarily does the five main things that I brag about and make an offer about on any label … which is to activate, revive, plant or transplant, give extra growth, and perfection to plants more than what would otherwise be possible,” Thomson states.

Thomson also points out that SUPERthrive is not a fertilizer, but a vitamin and hormone regimen to be used in conjunction with standard fertilization procedures. Just like the vitamins we, as human beings, take in addition to healthy diet and exercise, but for plants.

Thomson developed the formula in 1939 and founded the company Vitamin Institute to market and sell it shortly thereafter. Now, 71 years later, he’s still selling it, and at the age of 99, is still active in the day-to-day running of Vitamin Institute. In fact, he has not missed a day of work since his wife’s passing in 1998.

“He’s the first one in the door and the last one out,” says daughter Patrisha Thomson.

Holding a Ph.D. in biochemistry, Thomson has collected respect, awards and commendation for his lifetime of work. In 2006, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lawn & Garden Marketing & Distribution Association. In 2009, Thomson also collected Sustainable Environmental Education’s Environmental Awareness Award. That’s quite the lifelong resume for someone who originally wanted to go into law. Thomson was a senior in the School of Government at University of Southern California when he heard the calling of the hard sciences.

“As I went along, I became fully conscious of more and more and yet more nutrients for humans, as well as animals and plants, as soon as they started in discovering those facts around the world. And I used to read and study all the information that there was on the subject around the world in different countries,” Thomson said.

“I became aware through courses I took, also. Background material that I learned from biology classes, chemistry classes, biochemistry classes, ecology and physiological psychology, and in general all kinds of courses that built up my knowledge of nutrition for plants, animals and humans.

“So I ended up by deciding not to be a lawyer, which is what I was originally going to do. I was taking a pre-law course and decided that this was really my interest and decided to become a manufacturing biochemist as a lifelong occupation,” Thomson said. “It seems as if that was more basic and valuable to the world and more permanently a good thing to be doing. And it’s worked out.”

That turned out to be a good call. Not long after that fateful decision, Thomson found himself at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1940 receiving the Science & Industry Gold Medal for the SUPERthrive formula not long after its invention.

Thomson says the formula developed quite a bit at first, as he was finding the proper balance of 50 ingredients, but little has changed in the secret formula since the initial days. Most changes have just been in increased quality of component ingredients as they became available over the years. And Thomson doesn’t see any changes coming in the near future.

Since the formula for SUPERthrive is a secret, it’s awfully hard to ascertain causality for results, whether real or imagined. The advertising and labeling of the product itself don’t exactly help alleviate that outlook. That fact is not lost on Thomson, but he holds that secret close, despite the trouble it causes in some quarters.

“There are five (states) that it’s not sold in because the state administrations have an individual in each one that’s nosy about my ingredients. They want me to disclose them to open the formula to piracy, which of course, nobody else can understand why they have the guts to think that I might,” Thomson says.
Those states are Idaho, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and Oregon.

“You might be interested in knowing that in at least one state, the regulators told a horticulturist of various plants unsuccessful without SUPERthrive to buy it on the Internet, contrary to the interests of that state’s wholesalers and retailers, not to mention their other consumers,” said Thomson. “I think that is pretty strange. You’d think they’d have more respect for their own citizens in their own states.”

Thomson doesn’t dwell on the negative, however. SUPERthrive is selling well and even promotes a money-back guarantee that Thomson has never had to redeem in 71 years of sales. If you aren’t pleased with the response from your first gallon of the product, they’ll return your money. That kind of guarantee shows a confidence in their product that few companies can match.

“And that’s an interesting fact that in all the years not one of the eligible perspective guarantee-claimers, who were any established business or any public agency, no one after using a gallon has said that they wished they had not bought it, which impresses me anyway,” Thomson said.

Impressive, to be sure, but we are still no closer to figuring out what SUPERthrive actually IS. We know it is not a fertilizer and should be used in addition to a normal fertilizer regimen. The ingredients on the bottle say it contains Vitamin B-1 and naphthyl acetic acid (NAA), which is a hormone.

Vitamin B-1 has long been touted as helping transplants take root. The scientific community is having trouble bearing out that hypothesis with any clear results, but you’ll find plenty of argument from those who use B-1 in practice. NAA is a plant hormone in the autin family, which has an essential role in growth and behavioral processes in a plant life cycle. Those facts seem to only muddy the water.

In addition to those ingredients, the SUPERthrive label claims 25 percent dissolved solids, but with no indication of what those solids are. That is where the magic happens: the 50 or so unidentified vitamins and hormones that make up SUPERthrive.

“It says on the label 25 percent dissolved solids. Well, all you have to do is let some dry around the rim of the bottle or the jug and you see that 25 percent of the liquid weight becomes dry crystals of over 50 different ingredients. They are all right there. And people have spent big money … like one of my customers spent $10,000, he said, to have it analyzed,” Thomson said.

Thomson created SUPERthrive in the late 1930’s, well before the advent of vitamin culture, and before the agricultural hormone boom that took off in the ‘70’s and ‘80s. Thomson was far ahead of his time utilizing vitamins and hormones for agricultural purposes. Thomson reportedly came up with hundreds of vitamin-related products over the years for both plants and animals. Out of that prolific lot, only SUPERthrive remains on the market.

“At first I was making all kinds of vitamin preparations … human and otherwise … and actually not making any money because I didn’t have salesmen and none of them made their way on their own without salesmen except SUPERthrive,” Thomson said. “So I quit making everything else and concentrated on the one that’s making its way on its own on every continent all over the world with no salesmen at all. So this has worked out fine for everybody concerned.”

It looks like the world at large may never know the ingredients of the SUPERthrive formula. But that hasn’t stopped buyers all over the world from buying the product. The customers are happy with the results and Thomson still offers the guarantee in case someone, someday does not.

At 99 years old, Thomson is not only still active in the day-to-day operations of Vitamin Institute but is able to handle himself in an interview with sharp wit and aplomb. And yes, he takes vitamins every day. That sounds like a pretty good recommendation for vitamins to me.

For more information about Vitamin Institute go to

A.J. Lepley is the creative director of Brainstorm Media, a full-service multi-media design firm in the middle Tennessee area, and a freelance writer. A.J. has been published in newspapers, periodicals and academic textbooks, along with specific trade magazines that service niche markets. A.J. has spent 15 years in the media world, including design, writing, editing and coding. Please feel free to contact A.J. at

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