Jenny Craig is a big loser, but WW turns a healthy profit

Jenny Craig is fighting to find a way forward after falling behind the times.

Jenny Craig is fighting to find a way forward after falling behind the times. Photo: AAP/TND

The demise of Jenny Craig in the United States caused the Australian branch of the weight-loss empire to go into administration.

Although there is hope the brand will survive in Australia under new ownership, investment or a restructure (the website is still up and running, it must be noted) there is better news for its main rival Weight Watchers.

Despite the global company’s revenue being down significantly on where it was in its heyday, the future of Weight Watchers does not look as bleak as Jenny Craig.

Weight Watchers abandoned its iconic name in a 2018 rebrand to become simply WW, hired a new CEO, and increased profit and subscribers post COVID-19 lockdowns.

It also bought digital health company Sequence, which offers telehealth subscriptions for appetite-suppressing drugs Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro. It is unclear if that service will be available in Australia.

Where Weight Watchers rebranded to not mention weight, the company (through its digital acquisition, for example) seems to have gone back to encouraging weight loss explicitly (with the rebrand came a focus on “lifestyle choices” and “feeling healthy” rather than simply weight loss).

What went wrong for Jenny Craig?

Rohan Miller, University of Sydney senior lecturer in marketing and consumer behaviour, said Jenny Craig’s situation reflects what happens to an ageing business model that did not evolve to keep pace with a  changing market.

“I think that what we’ve seen is there’s a bit of a perfect storm for the Jenny Craig business in that the business models are dated – it was from a mass media era that doesn’t exist any more – [and] the competition has increased a lot over the last several years,” he said.

The program is also expensive.

The cheapest meal plan offers a week’s worth of breakfast and lunches for $94.20 per week.

A total weight-loss plan, which includes a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and a personal weight-loss coach, costs $203 per week.

Dr Miller said Jenny Craig should have put more focus on social media marketing, with platforms like TikTok and Instagram homes to fitness influencers with hordes of followers.

He said the company should have also offered some budget options to appeal to a broader market, and should possibly rebrand by retiring the Jenny Craig name – much like Weight Watchers rebranded itself as WW in 2018.

Weight Watchers’ recipe

Jenny Craig began in 1983 and Weight Watchers launched in 1963.

In 2015, Oprah Winfrey invested $US43.2 million ($63.8 million) in Weight Watchers, and in an advertisement for the company, declared her love of bread – a departure from the industry’s typical anti-carb rhetoric. The same year, the company launched its own social media platform, Connect.

In 2018, the company ditched the classic before-and-after pictures, to promote a health journey with no beginning, middle or end, and in 2019 invested further in digitisation with its voice app Wellow.

After launching its app for members, Weight Watchers launched a controversial healthy-eating app targeted at children in 2021.

Downside to celebrity endorsements

The past 40 years have seen significant changes in the market, said Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology consumer and retail expert.

“Once, when an individual wanted to gain education around healthy eating lifestyles and weight loss, they would have attended a physical location like a Jenny Craig clinic, or Weight Watchers,” he said.

“Now, all of that information is literally at the tip of our fingertips on our smartphones.

“We’ve got a new generation of consumers who, if they want to lose weight or lead healthy lifestyles, they can find all that information on TikTok, and on Instagram, and on Facebook.”

Dr Mortimer said celebrity endorsements are no longer smart marketing decisions.

Instead, he said weight-loss companies should be following the example of Lululemon which uses relatable ambassadors, such as fitness instructors, who don’t have the wealth and support of a Hollywood figure.

“I think there’s this real risk of celebrity endorsement around weight loss and healthy eating because celebrities represent a desired state … that the reasonable person knows that they’re never going to reach,” Dr Mortimer said.

“And they understand that the likes of Chris Hemsworth or Jennifer Hawkins have a [number] of dietitians and personal trainers behind them that create the image.

“Seeing maybe a local PT, that lives within a neighbourhood that has a healthy lifestyle that we can emulate, may actually create that authenticity of the message.”

Even celebrities have a hard time sticking to the weight-loss plans they promote.

On Wednesday, former AFL footballer Brendan Fevola said on Fox FM’s Fifi, Fev & Nick about the unhealthy risks he took to maintain his weight loss during his time as a Jenny Craig ambassador in 2017.

Brendan Fevola revealed the toll it took to be able to cash his Jenny Craig cheque. Photo: Facebook/ Jenny Craig

After his first six months of weight loss, Fevola was contractually obligated to stay within two kilos of the final weight for the next year.

As he didn’t stick to the Jenny Craig diet, Fevola admitted he would starve himself before his monthly weigh-ins, and pushed himself to the brink for the final weigh-in to drop from 119.8 kilograms to 108 kilograms in nine days.

“I went to a sauna and I used to walk out to Brighton baths and I’d walk along the boardwalk there just to … do a little bit exercise, but I … had no energy,” he said.

“Like, it’s the only time I thought I was gonna die … my nose started bleeding for no reason.”

Dietitians Australia president Tara Diversi said focusing solely on weight loss without considering personal factors such as different lifestyles and relationships with food and the body, can be ineffective in improving overall health.

“It is important to recognise that people can be healthy regardless of their body size,” she said.

“Success cannot be measured solely by changes in weight, as is often emphasised in some diet programs.”

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