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The Skift Wellness newsletter is our weekly dispatch focused on what’s happening in wellness from a global business standpoint. Skift Wellness lives where wellness meets commerce, mindfulness meets technology, the yoga studio meets the boardroom, and health meets business.
Earlier this year, we wrote about how a rebranded Weight Watchers has moved further away from its diet focus. The brand not only changed its name to WW, with the tagline “Wellness That Works,” but also shed some of its diet messaging in the New Year –– a time when customer interest in weight loss plans is at a high.
Our concern for the abrupt about-face rang true, as WW shares fell by over 30 percent last week, due in part to membership decline and fourth quarter losses. Investors now want answers about why this downturn happened, especially after Oprah’s big investment.
Although CEO Mindy Grossman pointed to the rising popularity of the ketogenic diet as a factor, other fad diets have come and gone while Weight Watchers carried on. Another reason, she said, was that its popular “Freestyle” plan is losing momentum.
But the third issue is maybe the most relevant: The rushed and bewildering name switch from Weight Watchers to WW, which left many loyalists scratching their heads and wondering if the company is still for them.
Even though the wellness category is booming –– with new funding for athleisure brands Bandier and Carbon38 making headlines and Martha Stewart entering the CBD space –– it was probably not wise for a legacy brand to abruptly switch its messaging right before “resolution season” and expect customers to keep up.
As Grossman admitted, “We always expected to have a bridge between Weight Watchers and WW,” but marketing needs to “make that bridge more overt.”
We’ll be following WW to see if it can rebuild those bridges fast enough and utilize its Oprah-backed star power to grow its membership again. Whether it will stick with its new wellness theme is still uncertain.
— Leslie Barrie, Wellness Editor
MIND & BODY
After WW Shares Drop, Investors Try and Figure Out What’s Going Wrong: The company formerly known as Weight Watchers saw its shares plunge by more than 30 percent last week, as announcements came that WW is predicted to have a 10 percent decline in membership in the first quarter of the year (usually a growth period for diet companies). CEO Mindy Grossman pointed to the rise of the ketogenic diet as one explanation for the drop-off, but many see the hurried and confusing switch to the “WW” brand and the company’s abandonment of weight-loss messaging as the biggest factor. Read more here.
Martha Stewart Teams Up With Cannabis Company for CBD Line: The lifestyle guru, known for her love of gardening, is turning her attention to a new kind of plant as she partners with the Canadian cannabis company, Canopy Growth Corporation. Stewart will advise the company on a new line of CBD products for humans and pets. While the pairing may seem random, Stewart has spoken highly of CBD in the past, telling the Hollywood Reporter that Snoop Dogg once gave her some CBD-infused ointment when a rock fell on her toe. “I must tell you, my toe got better within two days.” Read more here.
The Battle to Take the Top Spot in Luxury Athleisure Heats Up: Who’s the most luxurious athleisure brand of all? With Foot Locker’s recent $10 million investment in Carbon38 (by the way, when did Foot Locker get cool again?), it looks like the fashion-meets-fitness brand is ready to take the lead. That said, Bandier is also poised for expansion, thanks to a $25 million investment last week. While it’s unclear which company will come out ahead, both will likely find success as the athleisure category continues to grow. Read more here.
Food & Drink
Why Are Prices Rising at Whole Foods? Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is planning to launch brick-and-mortar grocery stores, with its first location in Los Angeles rumored to open later this year. That’s left people wondering where Whole Foods stands. Although many expected prices to decrease with the Amazon buy, the high-end health market just raised prices on over 500 grocery products due to inflation, it says, though the move could be to differentiate itself from Amazon’s new venture. Read more here.
How Sweetgreen Went From a Small Startup to a $1 Billion Business: There were other fast casual salad chains vying for dominance back in 2007 when Sweetgreen launched. But its founders –– three friends who had just graduated from college at the time –– saw Sweetgreen’s potential when lines started to wrap around the corner of the first store in Washington D.C. After receiving funding from big-name investors, the healthy food chain now has 90 locations across the U.S., with 20 more slated to open in 2019 –– as well as a clear spot at the top. Read more here.
Hims and Hers Launches an Anti-Anxiety Medication: In an effort to build up the direct-to-consumer company’s prescription drug offerings –– and appeal to an issue affecting its millennial customer base –– both Hims and Hers will now carry Propranolol, a medication to help treat Social Anxiety Disorder (or SAD). The drug, geared toward people who need to participate in public speaking as part of their career, but have anxiety about doing so, is one of many prescriptions it plans to roll out this year. Read more here.
Orangetheory Fitness to Partner with Apple: The boutique fitness franchise, which offers high-intensity workouts designed to get your heart rate into an elevated “orange zone,” is planning to collaborate with the tech giant. Orangetheory Fitness’ chief brand officer recently said, “We are actually rolling out, later this year, some new partnerships that rhyme with ‘Snapple.’” The bootcamp already utilizes tech, allowing members to track their heart rates even when not in class, so this pairing will likely take its tech to the next level –– a wise move. Read more here.
Skift Wellness Editor Leslie Barrie [email@example.com] curates the Skift Wellness newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Thursday.