Weight Watchers Plans Include Branding and, Naturally, Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey speaks during a Walt Disney event in Anaheim, California, last year.
Oprah Winfrey speaks during a Walt Disney event in Anaheim, California, last year. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Weight Watchers wants to shake up the diet industry.

Except we're not really supposed to call it dieting anymore, company executives made clear during a presentation Wednesday that ended with an appearance by Weight Watchers' most famous board member and investor, Oprah Winfrey.

Weight Watchers President-CEO Mindy Grossman and others began by describing the company's updated, ambitious positioning. "The world does not need another diet," Grossman said. "The world needs a leader in wellness."

"We inspire healthy habits for real life," Grossman told the crowd at the meeting, which was held at New York's Lincoln Center and streamed online for employees. "For people, families, communities, the world—for everyone."

Along with that new "impact manifesto" (yes, the company really uses that phrase), Weight Watchers laid out some specific plans and financial targets. Catching up to consumers' desire for food they feel better about eating, it plans to remove artificial ingredients from all Weight Watchers-branded products. And it's working with FreshRealm on Weight Watchers-branded meal kits that should be in stores in the second half of the year, Grossman said.

Mindy Grossman
Mindy Grossman Credit: Weight Watchers

The brand is also trying to appeal to younger people. This summer, 13-to-17-year-olds will be able to get free memberships when they join with paying adults, for example. Grossman recalled how as a 14-year-old with aspirations to be a cheerleader, she went along with her mom to Weight Watchers meeting, saying she felt "very insecure" back then.

There are plenty of other health, fitness or diet brands out there, from Jenny Craig and SlimFast to Atkins and Nutrisystem. But the biggest challenge for any of them may be consumers' belief that they can become healthy, lose weight or be better on their own.

Only 5 percent of people use a commercial weight-loss program, Grossman said. Weight Watchers wants to be "the partner" of that other 95 percent.

Other goals include adding new members, keeping them on the plan longer, growing profit more quickly than revenue and topping $2 billion in annual revenue by 2020. That last one is a lofty target considering revenue was $1.16 billion in 2016 and $994.4 million through the first nine months of 2017. (The company won't report 2017 results until Feb. 27.)

Weight Watchers had 3.4 million subscribers to its program at the end of September; it's aiming for 5 million in the program plus another 5 million engaging with the brand through experiences and content.

Planned new Weight Watchers branding, including packaging and digital elements, was not discussed in much detail during Wednesday's event. The meeting took place two days after Weight Watchers named Gail Tifford as its chief brand officer, tasked with "activating the evolution of the Weight Watchers brand." Tifford was most recently Unilever's VP of media North America and global digital media innovation.

The Oprah effect

The company's connection with Winfrey, announced in October 2015, has clearly helped the company.

A Weight Watchers member in one of the many videos played during the event called the company's app "o-mazing" in a reference to Winfrey.

Then Winfrey took the stage, charming the audience with jovial comments on things like cronuts (which she says contain 53 points under the Weight Watchers system) and announcing that she's stopped gaining weight during the holidays since she joined the program.

"Healthy is the new skinny," said Winfrey, who turned 64 last month and says she has never felt better. "I was in such bad shape Weight Watchers called me," Winfrey joked about her relationship with the company.

Weight Watchers on Jan. 1 rolled out DJ Khaled as its latest endorser. The music star shares his personal updates as a social media ambassador, broadcasting his progress on its Freestyle program on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and elsewhere.

Weight Watchers' other efforts include tweaks to its own Connect platform, which allows members to communicate with one another. It's also trying to get more personal with members, for example, sending texts or little gifts when people reach milestones or seem to be struggling. And it's opening an office in San Francisco to help recruit tech talent.

The stock, which soared when the relationship with Winfrey was formed, has continued to climb. On Wednesday, it was trading above $74 for the first time since 2012.

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