|Formerly||Weight Watchers (1963–2018)|
|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||$1.5 billion (2018)|
|$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] )|
WW International, Inc., formerly Weight Watchers International, Inc., is a global company headquartered in the U.S. that offers weight loss and maintenance, fitness, and mindset services such as the Weight Watchers comprehensive diet program.Founded in 1963 by Queens, New York City homemaker Jean Nidetch, WW's program has three options as of 2019: online via its mobile app and website, coaching online or by phone, or in-person meetings.
In 2018, the company rebranded to "WW" 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.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,she did not like the way the clinic's leader imparted information at the weekly meetings. 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.
Nidetch and the Lipperts launched Weight Watchers Inc. in Queens in 1963 with Nidetch as president and evangelist. They rented public meeting venues and charged participants $2 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 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.
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 POINTS system, an 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 WeightWatchers.com.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.
In October 2015, Oprah Winfrey partnered with Weight Watchers.Winfrey bought a 10% stake in the company, became its spokesperson, joined its board of directors, and lost weight on the program, plus 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. CEO James Chambers resigned on September 30, 2016. He was replaced as CEO in July 2017 by Mindy Grossman, who had played a role in growing digital sales revenue for 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". The company stopped requiring users to have a weight loss goal in order to join and renamed its in-person meetings to Wellness Workshops.
As part of the rebrand, WW introduced a new program, WellnessWins, that rewarded members for behaviors that encourage healthier habits, which were redeemable for products, services, and experiences.The company also announced Connect, a digital community, which would include micro-community Groups.
In August 2018, the company acquired Kurbo, Inc, rebranding the free mobile app directed at children and teenagers as Kurbo by WW.
WW's app was configured to help people track health-related goals.Its FitPoints system has been marketed as allowing individuals to 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 has partnered 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 2019, the program offered weight-loss support via the app and website, in-person workshops and personal coaching.
Weight Watchers' primary sources of income are subscriptions to the program.
The company provides a weight-management program (myWW+) 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.
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.
As of July 2018, Weight Watchers was the most widely used commercial diet in the world. 's rankings for 40 most popular diets and has also been listed as No.1 for weight loss and best commercial diets.In addition to the U.S., as of 2018 it had 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. Weight Watchers has been included in U.S. News and World Report
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 therapists have said that focusing on counting calories or points, as promoted by WW, can lead to a disordered relationship with food and hunger.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.
In August 2019, WW released Kurbo by WW, a weight management and health app directed at children and teenagers. It has been criticized by some experts on nutrition and eating disorders for encouraging dieting in children as young as 8.Christy Harrison, a registered dietician, wrote in the New York Times, "programs like this are fertile ground for disordered eating" and that efforts to lose weight "are especially troubling when imposed on children who aren't in a position to make their own choices and who haven't had the opportunity to develop a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies." However, an article in the Journal of Childhood Obesity concluded that it could be "part of the piece of the puzzle to improving health in youth", despite the authors' concerns with the marketing of the app emphasizing weight loss. An uncontrolled three-month study of the app used by children between 8 and 17 said that it was "highly effective" based on an average reduction in zBMI of 0.26, and a survey of weight management apps published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth noted that of their list, only Kurbo involved health care professionals in its development.
As a result of the release of Kurbo by WW, WW's corporate headquarters in New York City were protested on September 13, 2019,and as of September 2019 a change.org petition asking Weight Watchers to "remove your weight loss app for kids" had over 110,000 signatures.
Weight Watchers' founder Jean Nidetch was the company's President from 1963–1973.
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 also serves as President and on the board of directors.Since 1999, the chairman of the company has been Raymond Debbane, co-founder and CEO of The Invus Group.
In 2015, Oprah Winfrey purchased a 10 percent ownership stake in WW International and serves as a member of the board of directors.
Founder Jean Nidetch was the company's public face and spokesperson from its launch in 1963 through 1983.Subsequent spokespersons have included: Lynn Redgrave (1983–1992), Kathleen Sullivan (1994–1995), Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York (1997–2007), Greg Grunberg (2007), Tamela Mann (2008–present) 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), Kate Hudson (2018–present), Kevin Smith (2018–present), and James Corden (2021–present).
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Weight Watchers or WW is a commercial program for weight loss based on a point system, meals replacement and counseling.
Kurbo is a digital therapeutics program focused on sustainable healthy eating for children and teenagers. The program tracks and manages nutrition, exercise and weight of adolescents. It operates through a mobile application and a website, providing health coaching from weight loss and behavior change professionals to tackle childhood obesity.
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