Skift Take

Find out what’s on the rise and worth tracking in the wellness industry this year with these Megatrends, from mind- and body-focused co-working spaces to health biohacking to the continued buzz around CBD.

Skift Wellness launched its first newsletter this past fall, after we realized there wasn’t a place that spoke about the modern business of wellness and looked at the industry through a journalistic, critical lens.

Over the past few months, we haven’t only explored the latest and greatest in wearable technology, boutique fitness studios, and athleisure. We’ve also examined how other industries — be it travel, work, beauty, or food and beverage — have attempted to break into the wellness sector, whether that’s a legacy diet brand redefining its mission or a startup looking to change the way offices work.

In conjunction with our Skift Megatrends 2019 package, we’ve also been tracking all that’s coming up in wellness. Our Wellness Megatrends 2019 list includes what innovation and marketing tools will shape the wellness economy in the United States, as well as globally. Expect to find which wellness tech trends will be on the rise, what challenges await the buzzed-about CBD industry, as well as how meditation apps can continue to capitalize on the growing category.

These are the 10 Megatrends that will help define wellness 2019.


Brands Look to Memberships to Keep Loyalists Locked In

How do you make sure revenue stays high with an endless stream of startups entering the athleisure space? Keep your loyal customers coming back for more. Companies in the “fitness apparel-meets-lifestyle” sector, like Lululemon and Tracksmith, are starting to realize what building their communities can mean for business — and that fans of the brand are willing to cough up a hefty fee to feel like they’re part of the “tribe.”

Lululemon, for example, tested a loyalty program in Canada last year: For $128 Canadian Dollars ($96.55 in U.S. dollars) annually, devotees received, among other things, a pair of leggings or shorts, as well as free classes and free shipping. The pilot program was so successful, the brand announced on a sales call, that it plans to expand it to Lululemon’s other markets, likely with a fee increase.

Meanwhile, Tracksmith, a running apparel brand with a devoted following, recently announced its Hare A.C. running club. Priced at $128 annually, it includes not just a free racing tank, early access to major launches, and exclusive lines, but also in-person perks, like invites to pop-up events around the country, that will likely further build a sense of community around the brand.  “We heard feedback that people who have been fans of the brand for a long time were looking for ways to engage with us more and go even deeper with Tracksmith,” said Matt Taylor, co-founder and CEO of Tracksmith.

Nike revamped its membership program, too, though it decided to go the free route (this could change, pending on the success of other athleisure brands’ programs). The membership now includes partnerships with Classpass and Headspace.

While 2019 will likely see more athleisure companies follow suit, not every brand will find success with the membership path. “If there aren’t natural communities that exist around what you’re selling or it’s not an internal priority for the company, the program will likely fall flat,” Taylor said.


Wellness Tracking Moves Beyond the Wrist

While the Apple Watch Series 4 and Fitbit Versa smartwatch received much buzz in 2018, the most talked-about trackers in 2019 won’t be ones you sport on your wrist.

Not everyone loves to wear a watch (or something around their wrist), so more brands are thinking about how to incorporate tracking beyond wristwear. As Tejash Unadkat, CEO of Motiv Ring, a wellness tracking device, said, “We wanted to create something that was an alternative to a clunky, wrist-worn device that provided just as much functionality and had more aesthetic appeal.”

The Motiv Ring has all the functionality you would expect: It tracks activity, sleep, and heart rate (with ECG biometric capability coming by end of year). It’s also waterproof and holds a three-day battery charge. “Best of all, users can slip the ring on and forget it is even there,” said Unadkat.

This may be the secret to the Motiv Ring’s success in 2019. In an era when the public — including CEOs of tech companies — now realize that the constant buzzing, notifications, and reminders from our devices cause great distraction, anxiety, and reduced productivity, wrist alternatives could give wellness enthusiasts the data they need without all the screen disruptions.

“The desire to pursue other form factors is also coming from the consumer,” Unadkat said. Wellness fans are looking for discreet wearables, so brands are marketing accordingly. This makes it a viable category — startups like Spire Tags (that you stick to your clothing) and Bellabeat wearables (that look more like jewelry than devices) are willing to create what the customer wants, and customers are more than eager to buy in.


Wellness at Work Is No Longer a Luxury — It’s an Essential

In 2019, an office that provides healthy “work perks” won’t be thought of as a “nice-to-have,” but as a “need-to-have.”

“The boundaries between work and wellness have definitely blurred, because so much about how people work today has changed,” said Emily Cohen, chief marketing officer of The Assemblage, a wellness-focused co-working space opening in New York City. “Incorporating wellness into your work life used to be a luxury, but has become essential to maintaining one’s emotional and physical health,” she added. 

Forward-thinking co-working spaces like The Assemblage and Life Time Work offer healthy food, as well as wellness classes like meditation and yoga at their locations. “We surveyed our members about wellness at the end of 2018 and found that a majority place a strong emphasis on taking mindful pauses throughout their work day, whether for physical activity or meditation,” said Cohen. WeWork, meanwhile, launched Rise By We, a gym in New York City that’s available to coworking members.

Spaces like The Assemblage are adding benefits beyond the office to further help members thrive and grow in their careers. For example, the company offers both members and non-members a chance to visit (for a fee, of course) The Sanctuary, a retreat in upstate New York designed to help people get away from the city — and from Wi-Fi.

Many traditional companies have a long way to go in terms of upping their wellness offerings. But as wellness-oriented co-working spaces continue to push the boundaries on what it means to have a “healthy” working environment, they’d be wise to up their wellness perks so they can keep employees happy and attract new talent.


On-Demand and At-Home Exercise Will Dominate the Fitness Space

Exercise enthusiasts will still, of course, visit gyms and take boutique fitness classes in 2019, but the companies that have the biggest potential for rapid growth will be those that offer on-demand and at-home workouts.

“On-demand fitness appeals to people because it offers a solution that helps when it comes to two things no one ever has enough of: time and money,” said Ethan Agarwal, founder and CEO of Aaptiv, an on-demand audio-led fitness app. “So many of our members have signed up because they couldn’t find the time to get to the gym or a studio. Plus, members get unlimited content for the price of about four to five studio classes,” he said.

Peloton, the at-home stationary bike and treadmill streaming fitness company, has also marketed to the overly busy, and now has the edge over rival SoulCycle when it comes to the number of customers it reaches (based on numbers from last quarter). And the startup Mirror, a reflective screen that displays on-demand at-home workouts, recently received $25 million in funding and is now pumping up operations. The flexibility these on-demand devices and apps allow customers could be the key for future success –– it helps that they don’t require much overhead.

Agarwal agrees. “We don’t have the same limitations studios have around space and trainers. A single one of our classes recorded by an Aaptiv trainer can be streamed millions of times over, allowing us to reach millions.”

While 2019 will likely see gyms, boutique fitness, and on-demand and at-home fitness co-exist (because there’s still a need for an in-person fitness community), the real success stories of the industry this year will likely be the latter two.


Companies Want You To Start Biohacking Your Health

Americans have increasingly become more distracted, stressed, and anxious, which has taken a toll on our health. At the same time, there’s also a deepening distrust for the medical industry as bills get higher and more people become leery of medications that doctors may prescribe –– especially amidst the opioid crisis that has left thousands of Americans addicted to potentially unnecessary pain medicine.

As a result, wellness enthusiasts are becoming even more interested in taking their health into their own hands, and companies are more than happy to provide them with the tools they need to do so. “Biohacking will definitely be a major trend this year as people strive to become healthier and look for new ways to achieve their goals,” said Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof (of Bulletproof coffee fame) as well as Upgrade Labs, a facility in Santa Monica, California that’s dedicated to health biohacking.

Upgrade Labs utilizes technology — whether that’s cryotherapy or virtual float tanks — in an attempt to help clients hypothetically do things like recover from exercise faster, sleep better, boost brain power, and improve their immune systems. “The whole concept of biohacking is measurable data and tracking results,” said Martin Tobias, CEO of Upgrade Labs.

HVMN, a “nutritional technology,” is also attempting to help users to biohack their brains and athletic performance. Its ketone ester drink, initially formulated for the U.S. military, puts your body into a state of ketosis without having to go on the restrictive ketogenic diet, which may help endurance athletes improve times. “A core philosophy at HVMN is that we can make better humans,” said Geoffrey Woo, co-founder and CEO of HVMN.

The founders make bold claims, but they have found a demand — and see this as just the beginning. Said Woo, “The healthcare system of the future will be personalized and proactive, rather than passive — people will treat themselves with nutrition and lifestyle before they get diagnosed as sick.”


Women-Only Wellness Retreats Are the New Luxury

No men, no kids, no problems. Women-only wellness retreats are popping up around the globe, promising the ultimate luxury: to leave your cares (and kids, if you have them) at home and solely focus on your health and well-being.

Escapada, a European-based wellness retreat company, is launching a series of women-only retreats in 2019, focusing on “imbalance issues” like fertility problems, PMS, menopause, and insomnia. And SuperShe, a women-only retreat startup that combines networking and wellness, recently bought a Finnish Island to further help their guests disconnect from life’s stresses. “Sometimes it helps to be at the end of the world to feel like you are removed from everything,” said Kristina Roth, founder of SuperShe. 

The women-only aspect isn’t intended, however, to seem exclusive, the founders said, but to really help women focus on themselves. “I’ve always said, self-care is non-negotiable, but that can be challenging for women on many levels,” said Margaret Burns Vap, founder of the women-only Big Sky Yoga Retreats. “We are more likely to be putting everyone else first and feel guilty about taking time to take care of ourselves.”

Connection is also a big reason women to want to attend — and go back again. “I am a firm believer about making SuperShe trips focused on connection, friendship, and fun, and also integrating the wellness and fitness aspects,” said Roth.

That connection, said Vap, is what keeps the trend growing. “At first I took it as a compliment that women would come back on another retreat,” she said. “When they started to return three, four, and five times, I became convinced that women come back over and over because it satisfies a craving for connection that runs soul-deep.”


The Next Milk Will Be Anything but Dairy

Everyone is talking about the oat milk takeover in 2019 –– and yes, oat milk is sure to get a lot of buzz this year. The darling of the category is Oatly, a small Swedish-based company which became a household name last year with a smart marketing campaign targeting U.S. baristas. There was also an Oatly shortage in 2018, which hyped the brand even further.

This year, Quaker is launching its own line of oat milk, so it too can get in the plant-based beverage game (which is huge — sales were up 9 percent over last year, totaling $1.6 billion). It’s a natural fit for the company, considering its roots in oats, but it’s unclear if Oatly fans will make the switch or if it will be able to find enough new customers.

2019 won’t just be about oats, though. Other plant-based companies will likely prepare to up their marketing so they can put their own plant-based milks on the map. One such company: Hope & Sesame, a recently launched sesame milk brand, which looks to promote its nutritional profile as a key differentiator. The goal is, however, not to become a fleeting success. “While we expect Hope & Sesame to continue gaining traction in 2019, what we don’t want to be is the next fad,” said Julia Stamberger, CEO and co-founder of parent company Spinning Wheel Brands.

Good Karma, a flax-based dairy milk alternative, is also looking to expand to more stores in the U.S. in 2019 and ride the momentum of plant-based milks. “While I can’t speculate on what will happen to dairy sales, I can confidently say that as occasions for plant-based options expand, we will continue to see exciting growth in our category,”said Doug Radi, CEO of Good Karma Foods.

As the plant-based milk market continues to grow — and more people turn to the beverages because of a lactose intolerance, dairy allergies, and other concerns — it’s safe to say the industry will take a bite (or a sip) out of dairy’s profits.


Everyone Wants In on Clean Beauty

Clean beauty went from a niche to a mainstream category almost overnight when Sephora launched a clean beauty shopping section called “Clean Sephora” in 2018. “Sephora saw an obvious demand from consumers and created its own seal to help them easily identify the products they want, with the ingredients they don’t want in their products,” said Kiana Cabell, co-founder of Kopari, a coconut-based clean beauty company founded in 2015. “This really points to this not just being a trend, but the way of the future for beauty brands,” she said.

Now that the future for beauty has been solidified, everyone wants in. Thus, 2019 will be the year of clean beauty everything — not only will more independent clean beauty brands launch, but you’ll see existing clean beauty companies expand their offerings, plus traditional brands start reformulating their products to appeal to customers who want better-for-you ingredients. 

Brands that have been in the clean beauty game for a while are seeing that, finally, their moment has come — and people actually get what they’re now selling. “When I started Osea 23 years ago, I would have to explain why using natural ingredients was better than synthetic ingredients,” said Jenefer Palmer, founder and formulator of the beauty brand Osea. “Many doubted the efficacy of the products because they were natural.”

Now that the category is booming, traditional beauty companies are reformulating in order to compete. “I knew the tides had changed when Johnson & Johnson removed ‘questionable ingredients’ from its products,” said Palmer. This doesn’t, however, scare the smaller clean beauty companies. “With change comes greater consumer awareness, and with big and small companies all on the pathway of clean beauty, everyone benefits,” Palmer added.

As for what’s ahead? There’s still a need for a clearer definition of what’s really “clean.” “I definitely think that brands will have to receive certain certifications to prove they are truly ‘clean’ in the future,” said Cabell. Cabell also predicts that the momentum for clean beauty will continue to grow. “As more and more household name brands make this shift to clean beauty, I think all brands will feel the pressure to clean up their ingredients,” she said.


Meditation Apps Look to Go Offline

The numbers don’t lie: Meditation is a trend on the upswing. According to a new CDC report, the percentage of Americans who meditate grew to 14.3 percent in 2017, up from 4.1 percent in 2012. This makes meditation the fastest-growing wellness activity in the U.S., according to the report.

Meditation companies like Calm, Headspace, and Inscape realize this rise (and, in part, could be fueling it) and have seen skyrocketing success with their apps. The catch now, in 2019, is for them to continue to squeeze as much as they can out of the burgeoning industry, reach new customers, and find new sources of revenue. The answer? Thinking beyond their apps.

Calm, for example, is looking to go offline by creating more products (right now it sells a scented sleep spray), clothing, books, and even one day potentially opening a “Calm Island” destination, the founder recently told news outlets.

Inscape has a slight advantage in this “beyond the app” area, because when it launched its app, it also opened a studio space in New York City. “We intentionally launched our studio and app at the same time, as we see ourselves as a tool to deliver modern wellness for modern minds,” said Khajak Keledjian, founder and CEO of Inscape.

The brand sells an array of relaxation and wellness-themed products it has curated at its studio, plus it recently launched an e-commerce site, which is an extension of its in-store offerings. Partnerships also play a role in Inscape’s growth strategy. “Working with unexpected partners, like Listerine and Stella Artois, helps us reach people outside of the wellness ‘bubble,’” said Keledjian.

Finding people outside the bubble is likely what all the big meditation brands are after, if they want to continue to keep meditation’s momentum up.


All Industries Want In on the CBD Trend, but Challenges Remain

CBD, or cannabidiol, the non-hallucinogenic compound that comes from the cannabis plant and is known for its potential calming effect, became one of the most talked-about wellness products of 2018. Now, in 2019, it could potentially become the most used wellness product. That’s thanks in part to the recent passing of the Farm Bill, which will make it easier for farmers to grow hemp (a type of cannabis) and removes hemp from the federal controlled substances list.

Thus, 2019 will bring a wave of CBD-infused products, including everything from food and beverages to beauty and spa treatments — practically every industry will try to find a way to incorporate the “it” wellness ingredient.

The Spa at The Logan Hotel in Philadelphia, for example, just launched CBD treatments, including a CBD body and scalp massage, as well as CBD manicures and pedicures. “I’ve worked with a variety of CBD oils and salves and have found that there is a profound holistic state of relaxation that begins almost immediately when used alongside massage and reflexology treatments,” said Lanez Perry, The Logan Hotel’s spa director.

Bigger brands like Coca-Cola have been considering taking the plunge into CBD, which might threaten to make CBD seem “uncool” among the wellness set. But smaller brands don’t seem to mind these giants entering the space. “Larger companies adopting cannabinoids into their offerings only helps to legitimize their use,” said Missy Bradley, brand director at Stillwater Brands, which makes CBD-infused teas and gummy supplements..

However, it won’t be all rosy for companies looking to add CBD to their lineup; they may face issues bringing products to market. “It is still a new functional ingredient that lacks a developed supply chain,” said Bradley. Quality is also a pain point. “Poor CBD quality is something that has plagued the industry in the past, and much of the CBD in the market has come from overseas — customers and retailers will want non-GMO, organic, clean-label CBD products that they can trust,” said Bradley.

So, the new year will likely bring new CBD products — and new hurdles for what could be a $22 billion industry by 2022, according to a forecast from Brightfield Group, a market research company.

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Photo credit: A woman is shown doing yoga in athleisure gear. Skift just released its first-ever Megatrends in wellness forecast. Stephen Bartels / Flckr

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