Weight Watchers shares jumped 13% after Oprah Winfrey's Golden Globes appearance ©ABACA/PA Images
Weight Watchers shares jumped 13% after Oprah Winfrey's Golden Globes appearance ©ABACA/PA Images

Supply audit: Weight Watchers

19 January 2018

Everyone knows bigger snacks mean bigger slacks... Post Christmas binge, the dieting brand is here to help

A new year, a new you! Sure, we’ve heard that one before…
Honestly, I mean it this time. And what better way to reach your weight goals than by joining Weight Watchers? The brand, perhaps the most notable dieting membership club, runs meetings and franchises internationally and has around 1.1m members.

An old fashioned way to lose weight, no?
It was founded by a New York housewife, Jean Nidetch, in 1963 after a friend mistook her for being pregnant. Mortified, Nidetch, started a diet from the New York City Board of Health and Obesity Clinic. It was simple and sensible – low fat, low sugar, low carb – but, according to Weight Watchers lore, it was weekly coffee sessions with her dieting buddies that helped shed the pounds. Thus a concept was born.

But isn’t it all about health now?
It’s true dieting is a bit of a dirty word and health is now a holistic lifestyle choice. Weight Watchers’ stock price has peaked and troughed with the fads over the years, and hit an all-time low in 2015. But it is getting back on its feet. It seems that calorie counting – the essence behind Weight Watchers’ points system – still has a place. Its 2016 financial report showed a gross profit of $585.5m on revenues of more than £1.16bn internationally – a margin of 50.3%.

So how does it actually work?
As well as the weekly weigh-ins, your paid membership gives you access to Weight Watchers’ proprietary points system, scoring food on both calories and nutrients. The brand – which was at one point owned by Heinz – also franchises its name to a range of food products and the programme now combines an app and online content. No foods are off-limits to dieters, so while nothing is stopping you from making an Instagram-worthy kale and cucumber smoothie, no one is forcing you.

Does it really get results?
According to her obituary, till the day she died in 2015, aged 91, Nidetch never again exceeded a weight of 64kg. While not everyone will have her success (or willpower), there is evidence to suggest group support sessions do help – which makes sense as they are also used to help people quit a range of vices including smoking and alcohol. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed Weight Watchers members lose 2.6% more weight over a 12-month period than a control group.

Win win
Oprah Winfrey is probably Weight Watchers’ biggest name. The brand ambassador lost 42lb, and gained a good profit as her 10% stake’s value grew from around $43m to $154m – and that was before shares jumped 13% after her Golden Globe appearance.

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