KANSAS CITY — In a move that reflects a consumer shift away from dieting, Weight Watchers has unveiled a new name, WW, and a new statement: “Wellness that Works.” The company hopes to attract a broader audience that seeks to adopt healthy habits — not just those with a few (or more) pounds to lose.
The new direction includes a revamped app configured to help users reach all wellness goals, not just weight loss. The company is partnering with Headspace, a mobile app dedicated to meditation and mindfulness. A new line of WW branded food products will contain no artificial sweeteners, coloring, flavoring or preservatives, because in the minds of many consumers, clean label is a cornerstone of healthy living.
The company also is planning to launch WW Fresh meal kits and individual fresh food products later this year.
Fed up with fad diets, Queens, N.Y., housewife Jean Nidetch founded Weight Watchers in 1963 after hosting a group of friends in her living room for weekly weigh-ins. Today, the company holds more than 36,000 meetings each week across the country. In the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of diet plans, Weight Watchers topped the list in three categories (Best Diet for Weight Loss, Best Diet for Fast Weight Loss and Best Commercial Diet Plan for the eighth consecutive year).
The program has evolved over the years to reflect the latest science and trends. In an early iteration, eggs, fish and certain vegetables were limited, and bananas, watermelon and grapes were forbidden. Today, these foods are not only allowed but highlighted as healthier choices by the company.
The brand refresh feeds into a recent consumer movement favoring holistic health over counting calories. It’s why turmeric, mushrooms and kombucha are trending, and why more shoppers are studying ingredient statements, picking organic foods and ditching dairy.
Meanwhile, in seven states the obesity rates among adults is 35% or higher, a record number and an increase from five states in 2016, according to the recently released State of Obesity 2018 report. In 48 states, a fourth or more of adults are obese (but not in Colorado, Hawaii or the District of Columbia). The national childhood obesity rate is 18.5%, having more than tripled from a rate of 5.5% in the 1976-1980 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
As Americans continue to vow to eat healthier, the nation remains fatter than ever.
This topic came to light at the recent Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore during a presentation by Hank Cardello, senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute's Food Policy Center in Washington. He said it is the responsibility of packaged foods manufacturers to shrink obesity rates in the United States, and the burgeoning natural and organic products industry is not immune to these pressures.
“Keep doing your non-G.M.O., keep doing your natural, keep doing your organic, but please keep an eye to calories and sugars, because they’re the ones that have the biggest influence on our biggest problem,” he said.
Products that are perceived as healthy, such as granola bars or fruit juice, may be loaded with sugar and calories, Mr. Cardello said. Even organic chocolate may contain more calories and sugar than a conventional candy bar, he noted.
Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, argued that, in general, people who choose organic are leading healthier lifestyles.
“Farm fresh foods — produce and dairy — are driving the market,” she said in a statement sent to Food Business News. “Together, they account for more than half of total organic food sales. The organic market looks like a healthy plate.”
WW may have dropped the "Weight" from its name, but the company won’t abandon its origins as a weight loss company, said Mindy Grossman, president and c.e.o.
“We will always have the best weight-loss program on the planet, but now we’re putting our decades of experience in behavior change to work for an even greater mission,” Ms. Grossman said. “We are becoming the world’s partner in wellness. No matter what your goal is — to lose weight, eat healthier, move more, develop a positive mind-set, or all of the above — we will bring you science-based solutions that fit into your life.”