Oprah-Backed Weight Watchers Takes on Blue Apron with Healthy, Quick-Prep Meal Kits
According to recent announcements from Weight Watchers, the meal-kit industry is going to be getting a little more crowded.
Weight Watchers International Inc. is launching its own line of "quick prep" meal kits to be sold in grocery stores. Most meal kit services are delivered right to your home, but Weight Watchers is taking a different approach.
Weight Watchers will also begin selling kitchen tools, more packaged food and other items under the brand "WW Healthy Kitchen" and is teaming up with Los Angeles-based celebrity Chef Eric Greenspan to develop new Weight Watchers Freestyle recipes.
WW will unveil the WW Healthy Kitchen line at the 2018 International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago, IL, March 10-13.
Weight Watchers Ditching Before & After Photos
Chef Greenspan, an acclaimed chef and restaurateur, author and television host, has joined WW as a member and new brand ambassador, a la DJ Khaled.
He has developed several WW Freestyle-inspired recipes, including healthier versions of his comfort food-style fare and will host a cooking demonstration to showcase some of his favorite new recipes cooked with WW Healthy Kitchen tools and products at the International Home + Housewares Show.
Wanting to make it easier for people to incorporate healthy habits into their everyday lives, Weight Watchers has partnered with Gibson Overseas, Inc., to develop its new line of kitchen tools and products, including more than 100 health-conscious items from meal prep to cookware to storage.
The WW Healthy Kitchen line of tools and products will be available at the end of 2018.
Some sample products in the new WW Healthy Kitchen line include:
- Products that provide healthy, on-the-go options, such as water bottles with built-in tea or fruit infusers, as well as storage and containers with compartments for easy, fresh food on-the-go
- Tools to make meal prep simple, including a pineapple corer; combo spiralizer /juicer ; and cutlery sets with stainless steel blades and a non-stick coating, to make it easier to cut and slice vegetables
- Products that help you cook healthier, including nonstick pans with a new Teflon Platinum scratch-resistant coating and pour spouts to help drain away fats like oil and butter while cooking
- Tools that encourage healthier portion sizes, including measuring cups, mixing bowls and pots with internal measuring marks
Walmart - currently the largest grocery seller in the U.S. - also recently announces that it would begin offering meal kits in its stores. And the competition heats up as Albertsons supermarket chain acquired Plated (a Blue Apron alternative) late last year.
The new convenient, healthy and fresh quick-prep meal kits will be created in partnership with FreshRealm, LLC, and will begin rolling out to grocery stores in the second half of 2018.
"There has been a shift in what people demand as it relates to the food they consume; people are busier so they want convenience, but they also desire fresh foods whether they are on-the-go or at home with their family," said Michael Lippold, Founder & CEO of FreshRealm, LLC. "We're working closely with WW to deliver on all these points with a distinguished product line of healthy and delicious quick-prep meals."
This Bloomberg video with Weight Watchers Chief Executive Officer Mindy Grossman Discusses WW Direction for 2018 and Beyond
Bloomberg: It's not just a marketing campaign right? You're not just marketing better than peers - this is a whole different strategic route.
Mindy Grossman, Weight Watchers CEO: The Freestyle program has massive science behind it and it was in development for a period of time. What it really allows people to do, is livable eating. So, there's over 200 foods that are 0 Points - on the evolution of our SmartPoints Values. It really is about nutrients, it's about calories, it's about satiety - it's really teaching you the right choices and the habits to eat healthier and live healthier.
Bloomberg: Now investors really got a jolt when, first Oprah took a stake in the company - but that was a while back now. When you joined, the stock is up 235% - since last April - since it was announced that you'd be the CEO. How do you keep that momentum going? You obviously have a new strategic direction - what else will investors want to see?
Mindy Grossman: We just launched - at Alice Tully Hall - what we call our 'Impact Manifesto', which is really our purpose and our vision of how we're going to go from being about just weight to a more holistic approach to helping people lead healthier lives. There are moves that we are going to do against that - certainly continue on having the best quantitative and qualitative food program for health. But it's also activity and mindfulness and the integration holistically to help lead healthier lives.
Bloomberg: Are their brands that you emulate in this regard? Or are you trying to break a whole new mold?
Mindy: You know, everyone always asks me who our competition is and I honestly say, our competition is people thinking they can get healthy on their own. And we want to be their partner. Only about 5% of people use a commercial weight loss program - we want to focus on the 95% and really be able to democratize what wellness needs to be because we have a paradox right now, we are all talking about healthy and we're all talking about the wellness economy and nobody wants to use the word diet - and we're continuing to get unhealthier. And we want to solve that paradox.
Bloomberg: Well you do say, interestingly, that you envision Weight Watchers becoming an Amazon, or a Netflix. Do you mean an OTT (over the counter) product? Do you mean that you'll be streaming content? I know that you already have an app.
Mindy: What I mean by that is, you know our mobile phones are our most personal device. And you have your apps - your go to apps - for your life. We want to be that go to app for health and wellness. We want to educate you, inspire you - give you the tools to be healthy - no matter what stage you are in your life. We want to be that partner.
Bloomberg: A couple of questions about the financials. You do have some debt on the balance sheet - about $1.9 billion or so, a lot of it due in 2024. What are you telling investors about how you are going to service that debt - especially as interest rates look to be going up, pretty substantially this next year.
Mindy: We've made great progress on reducing our debt and we'll continue to do those things that we feel make sense, to have a strong balance sheet. And the greatest thing that we can continue to do is perform. And have the company continue to do well. And strategically invest in the right things.
Bloomberg: Now you say strategically invest - are you looking at anything company-wise, or maybe brand-wise, or geography-wise, that you might be interested in acquiring?
Mindy: We really feel that investing in our brand is the most strategic thing we can do. However, as part of that, we do believe we have opportunities for geographic expansion. We are currently not in Latin America. We are not in Asia. So it's continuing to grow the markets we're in and strategically develop both the technology capabilities and the strategy for market expansion.
Bloomberg: How might you do that? Is that literally dropping a sales team into - well you're already in Australia - but dropping a sales team into China for example? Is it buying a China company?
Mindy: Again, I think it's going to be different by market and the work that we're doing now is to prepare us and create the strategies for each market. Relative to other investments, we could see buying some smaller startups - to give us more capabilities in areas such as activity integration or mindfulness integration. But our bigger investments is in our own platforms. Our investment for example in Connect, which is our community platform within the app, have paid off significantly as you've seen the growth in our retention, for example. So our focus continues to be on recruitment, retention and then our third opportunity, beyond geography, is really to expand our products and our licensing for the future.
Bloomberg: Well you've been pretty good at recruiting so far if you look at the likes of DJ Khaled, for example, who is the latest come on as a major ambassador. Oprah, of course too. It seems like every headline about Oprah - whether it's to do with the presidency or other - affects the stock. Do you have a concern about a key man risk here that if Oprah were to do something, or to not do something, that that would really impact the stock more than anything that you could do, strategically?
Mindy: Look, Oprah has been an incredible board member - who wouldn't want her as a board member - and she's been a great partner. But the reality is we have to perform and we have to create value for this company that is sustainable. And we have an incredible platform. The reason we are performing is because we have a great product, we have an incredible community and the right strategies against how we're really partnering with peoples' lives. And they're responding. They're responding in recruitment. They're responding in retention. And that's what we need to be focused on.
Bloomberg: Give us an example of something that you call productive discomfort - this is one of your phases.
Mindy: So I think in today's world, you've got to not only be agile but you have to challenge yourself and you have to potentially disrupt yourself if you don't want to be disrupted. It really is every single day, challenging what you're doing, making sure you're strategic lens is against your purpose and you have to be willing to have the discussions - internally with your team - to do that. And I think that is one of the greatest things that you can do.
Bloomberg: Mindy, one of those discussions is about women, still, all this time later. You're one of the very, very few female CEOs and have been for a long time - you came from 10 years at HSN before this. What is your prescription for getting more women - not just on boards - because we know that has some effect, but into the executive suites which has a much bigger affect on a company and on its financial performance. Is it mandates?
Mindy: I can't agree with you more that the issue is so extreme. I'm glad that there's a lot more conversation happening around it. But boards, chairmen, and CEOs have to be held accountable and I think that they need to mandate diversity, as a whole, within their organizations. This is not just putting another woman on a board, or another woman in the C suite - it's basically dictating that diversity is a core criteria for a long-term, sustainable, successful business. And the fact is there's quantitative research against that. So if you're investing in a company that's not diverse, you're investing in a company that's decided it doesn't want to have long-term business success. Think about that.
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