WeightWatchers says yes to weight loss drugs like Ozempic, closing studios

Illustration of measuring tape around medicine bottle.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

After decades of emphasizing personal responsibility and behavior change, WeightWatchers is embracing clinical weight loss treatments and is reducing the in-person meetings that once defined the company.

Why it matters: WW, known since 2018, is trying to find its financial footing, losing more than $2.5 billion in 2022 after the pivot to “health” faltered and live attendance fell due to the pandemic.

enlarge: The company is cutting more than 300 in-person meeting locations, about 29% of its footprint, many of which are in urban areas like Chicago and Washington, D.C., that are leased on a month-to-month basis.

  • WW members flooded the company's Facebook account with frustrating posts — some threatening to cancel their memberships — after learning their meetings were coming to an end or turned virtual.

roughly the same When many members were told their in-person meetings were over, the company announced a deal to acquire Sequence, a telehealth platform that provides prescriptions for newly popular weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.

  • WW chief executive Sima Sistani told Axios: “This is the ultimate recognition of the fact that obesity has a biological and genetic basis – and in some cases, willpower alone is not enough .”

conspiracy: Sistani, who joined the company in March 2022, admits that her most loyal Weight Watchers members might be surprised to hear her say that.

  • “But it's more of a case of why we have to acknowledge it and lead from a scientific standpoint,” she said, adding that the company must “provide clinical access to those who need it” and hope to help end the “stigma” surrounding obesity.

flashback: In 2018, the company made waves by focusing less on weight loss and more on healthy living.

  • But longtime members held back, with the stock down more than 95% from its 2018 high.

Be smart: The decline in WW membership actually required a shift in focus.

  • Its user base falls 15% to 3.55 million by 2022, about 80% of which are digital-only members.

What are they saying: Morningstar analyst Sean Dunlop wrote that the company's decision to refocus on weight loss after its health failure “feels strategically compelling to us.” But “management may not be able to compete anymore.”

What to pay attention to: Whether or not the most loyal WeightWatchers members will leave after the decision to cut more in-person locations, the pre-pandemic total was about 3,300 and the post-cut total will be closer to 800.

  • Sistani said the company will continue to offer in-person meetings “when it makes sense” and is planning new “IRL” (in real life) experiences, without providing details.
  • “Fixed rental locations don't make a lot of sense for what we're doing,” she said. “But I still really believe in the IRL space.”

Bottom line: WeightWatchers believes the way people lose weight is changing and they can't be left behind.

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