A scrappy business owner who took on a giant of the Aussie vitamin industry has been ordered to stop ‘disparaging’ his rival after generating an avalanche of headlines – and millions of dollars in sales – with his aggressive marketing tactics.
The decision follows a bitter row over the ethics of so-called ‘comparative advertising’ at the heart of a legal fight between two millionaire vitamin moguls: Jessica Sepel of JSHealth and Jimmy Seervai of Life Botanics.
Ms Sepel’s company, based in Double Bay, is a premium vitamin brand targeted at young women. Its products supposedly help with everything from hair growth to metabolism to libido, with customers buying direct or from Chemist Warehouse.
Mr Seervai’s brand, based in Nowra, on the NSW South Coast, markets near-identical vitamins but at a much lower price to JSHealth’s products. Its main stockist is Coles.
The feud between the two companies – known as ‘the Vitamin Wars’ – exploded in 2022 when Life Botanics hired Sydney PR supremo Max Markson to handle publicity – leading to a surge of news coverage highlighting how Life Botanics’ products contained the same ingredients as JSHealth’s but at a fraction of the price.
Ms Sepel went on a rampage on social media, calling out Life Botanics for its ‘copycat products’ and shady advertising. She then called in the lawyers.
JSHealth owner Jessica Sepel (pictured) took a budget vitamin brand to court over copyright infringement. She won her case against Jimmy Seervai of Life Botanics on Thursday
JSHealth leans heavily on celebrity endorsement and influencer marketing to sell its vitamins. MAFS star Martha Kalifatidis (pictured) is one of the brand’s more well-known ambassadors
Her legal fight came to a head on Thursday when Ms Sepel successfully sued Mr Seervai, a former MasterChef contestant, and his company Australian Health Vitality, over copyright infringement claims.
Mr Seervai has agreed to refrain from ‘vilifying, denigrating, disparaging or mocking’ Ms Sepel or JSHealth, or anyone involved in the legal proceeding.
High-profile defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou, SC, representing JSHealth, argued Mr Seervai and his company had an unhealthy obsession with Ms Sepel and was trying to leverage the JSHealth brand to sell its own products.
While it may have been a legal victory for Ms Sepel, some would argue Mr Seervai is the true victor of the ‘vitamin war’ as his aggressive marketing methods – which he must now keep in check – helped Life Botanics get a foothold in the competitive and highly profitable vitamin business.
Jimmy Seervai, the owner of Life Botanics, is seen leaving the Federal Court on Thursday
Life Botanics (right) manufactures very similar products to JSHealth (left), but sells them for half the price by eliminating what Mr Seervai calls the ‘Double Bay brand tax’
‘He takes her [Instagram] posts and puts them on his own [Instagram] and mocks her, harasses her in a way which is quite uncalled for,’ Ms Chrysanthou said.
In a statement of claim, Ms Sepel put forward 54 instances she alleged Mr Seervai ‘attacked’ JS Health on Instagram and put his ‘identical’ product forward as an alternative.
Ms Sepel rejected Life Botanics’ central advertising claim that both companies offered the same products, albeit one at a cheaper price point.
‘[Life Botanics has], in trade or commerce, engaged in conduct which is misleading or deceptive,’ her statement of claim stated.
In his defence, Mr Seervai claimed JSHealth was overcharging customers and that he was simply using a common marketing tool called ‘comparative advertising’.
Ms Sepel’s Double Bay-based company is a premium vitamin brand targeted at young women. Its products supposedly help with everything from hair growth to metabolism to libido
The feud between the two companies exploded in 2022 when Life Botanics hired PR supremo Max Markson to handle publicity and put out a series of adverts (one seen here) highlighting how Life Botanics’ products contained the same ingredients as JSHealth’s but at a lower price
Mr Seervai (pictured) portrayed himself in the ‘David vs Goliath’ legal showdown as an Aussie battler, but Ms Sepel’s legal team proved he in fact has a multimillion-dollar property portfolio
Ms Sepel’s lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC (pictured) said Mr Seervai had an unhealthy obsession with Ms Sepel and was trying to leverage the JSHealth brand to sell his own cheaper products
Ms Sepel rejected Life Botanics’ claim its vitamins were made from the same formulations as her own, and also denied her company charged consumers double the price for the same ingredients as Life Botanics’ competing products.
Mr Seervai described his products as the ‘Aldi version of the wellness industry’.
Ms Chrysanthou said Mr Seervai’s posts, as well as a 60 Minutes broadcast about his business, implied her client was an ‘elitist rich person ripping off vulnerable people’.
The vitamin moguls’ court showdown kicked off in March, with Ms Sepel alleging the former reality star had overseen a ‘campaign of denigration’ towards her through social media posts and an appearance on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program.
Mr Seervai had taken journalist Tom Steinfort and a camera crew to one of the Federal Court hearings, telling Mr Steinfort he felt ‘nervous’ because he had never been in court before.
Mr Seervai described the court battle as a ‘David v Goliath’ situation, while likening himself to Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle – a quintessential Aussie battler.
Ms Sepel’s lawyers submitted an affidavit proving Mr Seervai, far from being a battler, owns multiple properties on Sydney’s north shore, totalling more than $13million.
In 2020, the Nowra-based businessman bought two houses near Balmoral Beach for a total of about $11.6million with plans to eventually knock them down and rebuild a single three-level residence with a swimming pool.
Ms Sepel has an even bigger war chest: she and her husband Dean Steingold, the CEO of JSHealth, have an estimated net worth of $426million, reports the AFR.
The ‘curry king’, as he was dubbed during his time on MasterChef, has spent the past decade honing his culinary research skills, founding food manufacturing company Essence Group that supplements for corporate giants like Woolworths, Aldi and Swisse, and exports to China, India and the U.S.