WW International, Inc., formerly Weight Watchers International, Inc., is a global company headquartered in the U.S. that offers various products and services to assist in healthy habits, including weight loss and maintenance, fitness, and mindset. Founded in 1963 by Queens, New York City homemaker Jean Nidetch, as of 2018 it delivers its program in three combined ways: online via its mobile app and website, coaching online or by phone, and optional in-person meetings around the world. The core philosophy behind Weight Watchers programs is to use a science-driven approach to help participants lose weight by forming healthy habits, eating smarter, getting more exercise, and receiving support.
|Weight Watchers (1963–2018)|
|Traded as||NASDAQ: WW|
|Founded||May 15, 1963|
Queens, New York, U.S.
|Headquarters||675 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Floor New York, NY 10010|
|Mindy Grossman, President & CEO|
|Products||Weight loss, Packaged foods, Exercise products|
|Revenue||$1.307 billion (2017)|
|$267.305 million (2017)|
|$163.514 million (2017)|
|Total assets||1.246 billion (2017)|
|Total equity||-1.015 billion (2017)|
Number of employees
|18,000 (as of 2017[update])|
A 2015 systematic medical review concluded that at 12 months Weight Watchers is associated with 2.6% more weight loss than those who were in a control group.
On September 24, 2018, the company announced a rebrand to "WW" taking effect immediately, to reflect its development from focusing on weight loss to overall health and wellness.
Weight Watchers was conceived by Jean Nidetch, a housewife and mother living in Queens, New York City, who had been overweight most of her life and had tried pills, hypnosis, and numerous fad diets, all of which only led to regained weight. When in 1961 at the age of 38 she weighed 214 pounds and an acquaintance mistook her for being pregnant, she entered a free 10-week weight-loss program sponsored by the New York City Board of Health's obesity clinic. The program was called the "Prudent Diet" and had been developed in the 1950s by Dr. Norman Jolliffe, head of the board's Bureau of Nutrition. The plan included the dictums "No skipping meals. Fish five times a week. Two pieces of bread and two glasses of skim milk a day. More fruits and vegetables." and eating liver once a week. It prohibited alcohol, sweets, and fatty foods, included a list of allowed foods and the quantities allowed, and encouraged weighing portions.
Although Nidetch lost 20 pounds on the ten-week program, the way the clinic's leader imparted information at the weekly meetings was not to her liking, and discussion was discouraged; in addition, Nidetch's motivation was threatened by her urge to binge on Mallomar cookies. She therefore began a weekly support group in her apartment, initially inviting six overweight friends, which within two months grew to 40 women each week. She introduced the "Prudent Diet", a single page from the New York City Board of Health, to her fellow weight-loss seekers, and the group provided empathy, rapport, mutual understanding, support, and sharing of stories and ideas. The meetings also included a weekly weigh-in, and Nidetch developed a rewards system including prizes for weight-loss milestones. In October 1962 Nidetch achieved her target weight of 142 pounds, and maintained the weight loss; according to her she never exceeded 150 pounds thereafter.
As interest grew Nidetch coached groups in other neighborhoods. One group was at the home of Al and Felice Lippert, and after the Lipperts successfully lost weight, Al, who was a businessman in the garment industry, talked Nidetch into making a business out of her endeavor.
Launch, IPO, and sale to HeinzEdit
With Nidetch as president and evangelist, Nidetch and the Lipperts launched Weight Watchers Inc. in Queens in 1963, renting public meeting venues and initially charging participants $2 (the price of a movie at the time) per weekly meeting; the first official meeting, in May 1963, attracted 400 attendees. Nidetch led groups and trained others to lead groups as well.
Al Lippert, in charge of the business end of the company, franchised it in 1964, using a razor/razorblade model of an inexpensive franchise fee offered to graduates from the company's programs who had kept the weight off, with 10% of gross earnings as royalties to the parent company. By 1967, the company was international, with 102 franchises in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, and Israel.
Felice Lippert was in charge of recipe development, nutrition, and food research; the first Weight Watchers cookbook, published in 1966, sold more than 1.5 million copies. By January 1968 the company had more than one million members worldwide, and Weight Watchers Magazine was launched, publishing 300,000 copies of its first issue.
By 1968 the company had 91 franchises in 43 states, and to expand further overseas Al Lippert took the company public as Weight Watchers International Inc.; the initial 225,000 shares, offered at $11.25 a share, began trading enthusiastically, rising to over $30 by the end of the first day. Lippert also initiated lines of Weight Watchers prepared food, spas, camps for overweight kids, and weight-loss products such as scales and travel kits.
Nidetch, with her slim well-dressed image, charisma, and flair for motivational speaking, remained the public face of the company. In 1970 she published The Memoir of a Successful Loser: The Story of Weight Watchers, which documented the original Weight Watchers plan. In 1973 she resigned as president of the company to devote herself to public relations – traveling, being interviewed, and speaking to large audiences about the program's success.
In the mid 1970s the company moved away from simply dieting and more toward "eating management", developing tailored options to meet the varying needs of its members, including a specialized food plan for the management of weight-loss plateaus, and a maintenance plan.
By the late 1970s the company and its varied operations and divisions had grown too large and complex for Lippert to manage, and it was sold, along with its food licensees, to the H. J. Heinz Company in 1978 for $72 million. Lippert remained chairman and signed on to remain CEO for a few years, and Nidetch remained in her role as consultant. In the late 1980s, the company's three divisions – support-group meetings division, food line, and publications and media – were still increasingly profitable year-over-year.
Private-equity acquisition and second IPOEdit
In 1990, with competition from Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, Healthy Choice, and Nutrisystem, earnings began to decline. The Heinz parent company competed by introducing newly developed Weight Watchers "Smart Ones" frozen meals. In 1997, to replace its previous system of counting and weighing food, Weight Watchers introduced the simpler and more flexible POINTS system, a proprietary algorithmic formula which quantifies a food portion for the purposes of healthy weight loss based on carbohydrates, fat, and fiber content.
In 1999 Heinz, while retaining the rights to the Weight Watchers name for use in certain food categories, sold the company to the private equity firm Artal Luxembourg, for $735 million in a leveraged buyout led by the Invus Group, which manages Artal and which is run by Raymond Debbane. Artal put up $224 million and Weight Watchers financed the rest of the buyout with debt. Debbane became chairman of Weight Watchers. In 2001 Debbane organized an initial public offering for Weight Watchers and took it public again. As of 2018, Artal remains the company's largest shareholder.
In 2000 the new owners reacquired the license to publish Weight Watchers Magazine from Time Inc., where Heinz had offloaded it in 1996 and where it had performed poorly; circulation recovered quickly, and the magazine was redesigned in 2003.
In 2001 the company launched a multi-functional website, WeightWatchers.com, with free information on weight loss, healthy lifestyle, and meeting locations, and subscription information and tools for customers to track or supplement meetings, point values, favorite foods, and personalized suggestions. In 2007, it launched Weight Watchers Online for Men.
In late 2010 Weight Watchers overhauled its POINTS system and replaced it with PointsPlus (ProPoints outside the U.S.); under the new system, fruits and non-starchy vegetables were zero points, and processed foods had higher points than they did before.
From 2012 to 2015, although it had its own app and e-tools since 2009, the company faced stiff competition from free smartphone fitness apps, many of which included a social-media group-support system, and from wearable fitness monitors such as Fitbit.
2015 to presentEdit
In October 2015, Oprah Winfrey partnered with Weight Watchers, giving the company and its stock a boost. Winfrey bought a 10% stake in the company, became its spokesperson, joined its board of directors, and lost weight on the program, and she helped launch a new holistic lifestyle and fitness program called "Beyond the Scale". The late-2015 Oprah effect did not prevent a subsequent downward trend in 2016, largely attributed to challenges from Nutrisystem and the proliferation of free apps and websites aimed at helping people manage their weight, but linked also by some to a faulty initial tech rollout of the new program's app, and James Chambers, who had been CEO for three years, resigned effective September 30, 2016. He was replaced as CEO in July 2017 by Mindy Grossman, who had previously revamped and turned around HSN.
In December 2017, the company introduced WW Freestyle (called WW Flex outside the U.S.), which allows people to carry over unused "SmartPoints" through the week, and lists more than 200 zero-points foods, including various lean proteins, that do not need to be tracked. In February 2018 CEO Grossman announced a new direction and purpose for the company: to move beyond mere dieting to being a "partner in health and wellness" and inspiring healthy habits for real life. Subscriptions to Weight Watchers rebounded significantly by mid 2018, credited to Winfrey's influence and to Grossman's tri-fold efforts of revamping the program, improving tech offerings, and giving the company a more broad-based appeal.
In September 2018, the company re-branded itself WW International, Inc., as it shifted its focus more broadly to overall health and wellness, including fitness. It adopted a new tagline, “Wellness that Works", and announced a variety of changes, to be rolled out by year's end beginning in early October. A weight-loss goal is no longer necessary to join the WW program, and its optional weekly in-person meetings have been renamed Wellness Workshops.
A new program, WellnessWins, rewards members for small, everyday behaviors that encourage healthier habits, which are redeemable for exclusive products, services, and experiences. WW's social media-like digital community Connect will have micro-community Groups, where like-minded individuals can discuss their interests such as hobbies, life situations, activities, and diets such as gluten-free or vegan.
WW's updated app is configured to help people reach all their wellness goals, not just weight loss. Its FitPoints system is being updated and personalized so that individuals choose activities which have the biggest impact on their health. The updated WW app is also integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The company is also partnering with the meditation app Headspace to offer customized mindfulness content for members.
Weight Watchers' business model is one of a subscription-based program of support, plus a variety of purchasable products, media, services, and technologies. Its brand identity has been framed around Weight Watchers being a community, and its website is intrinsic to its effectiveness. Particularly in the 21st century, the company has increasingly marketed itself as a health and wellness brand rather than a weight-loss brand, and its dietary plans emphasize fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and foods high in whole grains and low in trans fats. Also in the 21st century, the company has increasingly tried to effectively and competitively balance its digital and offline offerings. As of 2018, the program offers weight-loss support via either online and digital participation, tools, and coaching, wellness coaching, weekly in-person support-group meetings, plus online and digital tools, or personalized coaching, online and digital tools, and unlimited phone support.
Products and servicesEdit
Weight Watchers' primary sources of income are subscriptions to the program, which as of 2018 has three formats to combine and select from: online via its mobile app and website, coaching online or by phone, and optional in-person meetings around the world.
The company provides a weight-management program (WW Freestyle) and a food plan (SmartPoints); customers can participate in the program via in-person group meetings and/or digitally, and are provided with individualized information, support, and coaching.
It also receives income from Weight Watchers–branded services and products, which include publications such as Weight Watchers magazines, Weight Watchers cookbooks, and food guides and restaurant guides with points values. It sells its own bars and snacks, and licenses the Weight Watchers trademark to a variety of prepared foods, beverages, and other products and services.
Weight-loss plans and formatsEdit
The original Weight Watchers dietary plan in the 1960s was roughly based on the "Prudent Diet", developed by Dr. Norman Jolliffe at the New York City Board of Health. It was based around lean meat, fish, skim milk, and fruits and vegetables, and it banned alcohol, sweets, and fatty foods. It had lists of allowed and prohibited foods, and was more structured than subsequent versions of the Weight Watchers program. It recommended weighing food portions, and prohibited skipping meals or counting calories.
The company has regularly changed and updated its diet plans and formats, to reflect current nutritional and obesity science and to accommodate consumer awareness and demand.
- In 1979 Weight Watchers introduced PepStep (or Personal Exercise Plan), a walking or stair-climbing exercise program to benefit members' weight loss, developed by a doctor specializing in exercise and cardiac rehabilitation. With this additional element Weight Watchers became the one of the first weight-loss companies, along with the Pritikin program, to promote the importance of regular exercise.
- By 1980, the company expanded its dietary plan to allow for substitutions and more flexibility. It introduced three routines: a "full choice" plan with the most options; a "limited choice" plan with fewer options and less leeway; and a "no choice" plan with no substitutions and no options, which was the most calorie-restrictive and was to be followed for no more than two weeks.
- In 1984 the company added Quick Start, which was a more spartan, temporary eating plan designed to produce faster, motivation-boosting weight loss in the first few weeks of the program. It was the company's first exchange-based diet, where foods within categories could be exchanged for each other. This was expanded in 1986 to Quick Start Plus, with higher-fat options and Personal Choice options.
- In 1984 Weight Watchers also launched its At Work program, held for groups of 15 or more in office places, for people who were otherwise unable to attend community meetings. The meetings are held either before work, during the lunch break, or after work, and the fees are usually subsidized by the employer.
- In 1988, Weight Watchers launched the Quick Success program, a plan that was easier and more flexible, particularly for working women. It also allowed for a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, and increased the minimum daily vegetable intake from two to three.
- In 1997 Weight Watchers completely replaced its exchange-based diets with the simpler and more flexible POINTS system (also originally called 1-2-3 Success), a proprietary algorithmic formula which quantifies a food portion for the purposes of healthy weight loss based on carbohydrates, fat, and fiber content.
- In 2000 the company rolled out Winning Points, a more personalized version of the POINTS system, which encompassed self-observation, behavior modification, and fitness and activity, and which did not have any food exclusions.
- In 2004, Weight Watchers launched the Turn Around program, which gave people two plans to choose from, and aimed to teach participants how to eat normal food, in sensible portions, and to increase their exercise. The Flex Plan option allowed dieters to eat anything they wanted as long as they stayed within their points allowance; activity points could be earned by exercise. The Core Plan option (later known as "Simply Filling") dispensed with points entirely and included a list of foods that could be eaten "until satisfied", and a list of foods to be avoided.
- In December 2008, Weight Watchers eliminated the Core Plan and introduced the Momentum Plan, designed to help members understand how consuming certain filling foods helped them to eat less and prevent overeating.
- In late 2010 Weight Watchers overhauled its POINTS system and replaced it with PointsPlus (ProPoints outside the U.S.); under the new system, fruits and non-starchy vegetables are zero points, and processed foods have higher points than they did before.
- In December 2012 the company rolled out Weight Watchers 360, which did not change its PointsPlus plan but added behavioral modification and support, mindfulness, control of and planning for one's eating environment, and new apps, and also added an optional wearable fitness monitor to purchase called ActiveLink.
- In September 2014, Weight Watchers began syncing its apps with wearable fitness monitors such as Fitbit and Jawbone, so that the activity of members who own those devices is instantly uploaded and tracked and converted to points.
- In December 2014, Weight Watchers launched two new services: Personal Coaching and 24/7 Expert Chat. Personal Coaching provides individuals with a Weight Watchers-certified coach who helps them develop an individualized weight management plan and is available via phone, text, and email for subsequent consultations. 24/7 Expert Chat allows members all-hours access to Weight Watchers-certified coaches who can offer instant advice when users encounter weight-loss or dieting crises.
- In December 2015 the company rolled out a new holistic lifestyle and fitness program called "Beyond the Scale". The program uses SmartPoints, an updating of the points system which takes into consideration the nutritional value of a food, and helps steer people away from junk foods, sugar, and saturated fat. That same month, the company launched Connect, a social-media platform via its app where members receive support from other members.
- In December 2017, Weight Watchers introduced WW Freestyle (called WW Flex outside the U.S.), which allows people to carry over unused points through the week, and lists more than 200 zero-points foods, including various lean proteins, that do not need to be tracked.
Reception and effectivenessEdit
Weight Watchers is the most widely used commercial diet in the world, with more than 4.5 million subscribers globally as of July 2018. In addition to the U.S., as of 2018 it has operations in countries including Canada, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil. Its main long-term competitors in the commercial weight-loss company genre are Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, with Weight Watchers being the market leader.
In U.S. News and World Report's 2018 ranking of 40 of the most popular diets, Weight Watchers was ranked No. 1 for weight loss, No. 1 for best commercial diet, tied for No. 1 for fast weight loss, tied for No. 2 for easiest diet to follow, tied for No. 3 for diabetes diets, tied for No. 5 for healthy eating; and it was ranked No. 4 for diets overall. The study noted that participants can eat what they want, no food is off-limits, and the diet is flexible and personalizable. It also noted, "Participation can be pricey, though often deemed a good value, depending on the program you choose." The overall summary stated: "Weight Watchers is a smart, effective diet. It surpassed other commercial diet plans in multiple areas, including for short- and long-term weight loss and how easy it is to follow. It’s also nutritionally sound and safe, according to experts. Among its pluses: an emphasis on group support, lots of fruits and vegetables and room for occasional indulgences."
For Weight Watchers customers who choose to attend meetings, in addition to supplying information and lifestyle tips, meetings operate as support groups that provide empathy, rapport, and mutual understanding, as well as positive reinforcement.
Some critics have claimed that effective weight loss through Weight Watchers is dependent on the length of membership in the program; in 2015 psychology professor Traci Mann wrote in The Cut, "People give Weight Watchers the credit when they lose weight. Then they regain the weight and blame themselves. This sets them up to join Weight Watchers all over again, and they do." In Psychology Today a therapist who counsels binge eaters stated in 2017 that "[A] mindful integrated approach of eating, moving and living can bring a type of peace that simply doesn’t come in ... [a] monthly subscription." Previously the company's prepared foods had been criticized as containing preservatives and other additives; as of late 2018 Weight Watchers has removed all artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, and preservatives from products carrying the company’s name, and dropped or reformulated most of the food products it once produced.
A 2015 systematic medical review found that at 12 months Weight Watchers was associated with 2.6% more weight loss than those who were in a control group. The 2015 review stated there is a lack of evidence beyond 12 months.
Leadership and spokespersonsEdit
Al Lippert was CEO of Weight Watchers from 1963–1981. From 1978–1999, Weight Watchers was a subsidiary of Heinz. Charles M. Berger was CEO of Weight Watchers from 1982–1994, having previously been its President. Since 1999, the CEOs of Weight Watchers have been: Linda Huett 2000–2006; David Kirchhoff 2007–2013; Jim Chambers 2013–2016; and Mindy Grossman 2017–present.
Grossman is also President, and is on the board of directors. Since 1999 the Chairman of the company has been Raymond Debbane, co-founder and CEO of The Invus Group.
Founder Jean Nidetch was the company's public face and spokesperson from its launch in 1963 through 1983. That year, the company began recruiting specific celebrities who had lost weight on the program or were willing to, to appear in commercials and interviews touting the program and its success. These spokespersons have included: Lynn Redgrave (1983–1992), Kathleen Sullivan (1994–1995), Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York (1997–2007), Greg Grunberg (2007), Jenny McCarthy (2009), Jennifer Hudson (2010–2014), Charles Barkley (2011–2014), Jessica Simpson (2012–2014), Ana Gasteyer (2013), Oprah Winfrey (2015–present), DJ Khaled (2018–present), and Kevin Smith (2018–present).
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