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Much-hyped health app and gut shot brand Zoe is reducing its headcount after having “over-expanded our team over the last six months”.

The redundancies are part of an urgent economy drive at the company, which CEO and co-founder Jonathan Wolf said needs to reduce costs by 20%.

In a letter to employees, Wolf said 2023 had seen the brand experience “tremendous growth” with a “huge sales backlog”.

“While we continue to see many thousands of new members joining Zoe every month, our forecasts for 2024 growth were wrong,” Wolf wrote. “We have over-expanded our team in a way that is unsustainable until we have a larger member base.”

Without cutting staff – which the company calls Zoentists – the brand’s “monthly burn-rate will be much too high”.

The company will also halt its current search for a London headquarters, stop developments on its US warehouse and “significantly reduce contract costs” as part of the move.

Zoe provides at-home gut health test kits – involving a £299 at-home stool test – and personalised nutrition advice based on the results. Members can also apply for a continuous glucose monitor, which is worn on the arm, to “understand in real-time how your blood sugar responds to food, exercise, stress, and sleep”.

Membership gives users access to an app to track their diet, get a “motivating day score” and advice, as well as “unlimited chat support” with Zoe coaches. Various membership plans are offered – from £24.99 per month for a 12-month membership, up to £59.99 per month on a rolling membership basis.

After launching in April 2022, last year the Zoe app’s nutrition programme attracted £2m in investment from Dragons’ Den’s Steven Bartlett and signed up celeb ambassadors such as Davina McCall, who made a promotional video for Zoe last August. Wolf said last year the brand took on 100,000 new members.

In January, it collaborated with M&S to launch a Zoe-branded milk-based gut health shot. Called M&S Food x Zoe Gut Shot, and priced at £2 for 150ml, the drink contains over five billion live cultures from 14 strains of friendly bacteria, is high in fibre and a source of calcium, according to M&S. The news coincided with a raft of column inches around the Zoe nutrition programme, fuelled by high-profile interviews with Professor Tim Spector, scientific co-founder of the programme, and his appearance on Netflix documentary You Are What You Eat.

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Making the announcement on LinkedIn, Wolf drew the ire of many Zoe members and former members. Many complained that Zoe’s membership pricing was too high, and remained so even for loyal customers. “There seemed no point to stay a member once I’d learnt what was and was not good for me,” said one former member. “Paying £40 a month for very little was far too high,” said another.

Others complained it could take days before a reply was received from Zoe’s coaches, who “didn’t seem particularly well trained or qualified”.

Another former member had been put off by Zoe’s marketing, which “aggressively attacked every single supermarket food” as unhealthy “with no analysis, no evidence provided”.

“Honestly after that I didn’t want to put the Zoe logo on my arm, and deleted the app,” they added.

Wolf said the impact on the company’s staff would be “very hard” but “we must face this hard reality because our mission is important, and it’s clear that we can succeed at it”.

Wolf said he took “full responsibility for the decisions that got us here”.