Despite Little Britain’s mocking parody of weight-loss clubs, WeightWatchers has a healthy one million members.
The diet has been tried by 23% of the population, compared with 14% for Slim-Fast, 8% for Atkins and 2% for the GI diet. Many of these dieters use the grocery brand to help them stick to the points scheme, but as 43% of UK households have bought one of the products in the past year [TNS], it proves that it’s not just club members who are fans.
“WeightWatchers is doing really well in our stores,” reports Laura Kingsman, trading manager at Musgrave Budgens Londis. “It fires a belief in its disciples and is an approved process, a motivating regime with a strong support package that has simplified calorie control.”
The brand has spread its reach across the supermarket, using manufacturers that produce food and drink under licence, and the strategy has helped create a brand worth £135m - up almost 20% this year - with WeightWatchers from Heinz worth an additional £116m [TNS 52 w/e May 18, 2005]. Heinz has been busy of late, adding three flavoured products including Spring Onion Mash and a range of frozen desserts, as well as overhauling its frozen ready meals range by creating four new dishes and updating classic favourites - a timely move as TNS reports that low-calorie frozen meals have seen the biggest year-on-year slide of any category, down 15.6%.
New products in other categories are being launched all the time. K&K Salsa recently produced a balsamic salad dressing, and WeightWatchers says it is always looking for new categories to move into. Elizabeth Egan, head of product licensing and at-home, asserts: “I think one day there will be a WeightWatchers product in every supermarket food aisle.”
In January, a berry flavour fromage frais in single and four-packs will hit the shelves, along with turkey, chicken and ham sliced chilled meats. Yoplait Dairy Crest has helped the WeightWatchers brand take a 16% value share of the light chilled yoghurts and desserts market [IRI, 52 w/e October 1, 2005] and Yoplait marketing manager Jennie Dettmer says: “People are picking up on the trend for indulgence within the diet category and we are seeing our dessert-style yoghurts doing particularly well as a result.”
Licensees agree that it’s not just dieters who are fans of the products and believe others buy into it because they want to be healthy. Anthony Alan, for example, produces cakes for the brand. Marketing director Sarah Morgan reports: “People who want a healthier option to full fat cakes also buy WeightWatchers as the cakes do not compromise on taste.”
But Alison Henbest, head of Tesco Diets, is not convinced that the brand has a particularly healthy future. “WeightWatchers as a concept is losing out to more convenient ways of dieting, such as books and the web,” she says. “The diet as a concept is outdated - consumers no longer just think about fat and calories - they are thinking about the right fats, salt, sugar and a balanced approach.”