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Weight Watchers’ shares have exploded since Oprah Winfrey invested in the iconic diet company and joined its board.
It’s no secret that Weight Watchers’ target customers love Oprah – she’s many a woman’s hero.
But there are issues at the company that even Oprah can’t easily fix.
“Regardless of how much Ms. Winfrey contributes to the marketing of Weight Watchers, a well-designed new program is necessary for the company’s success,” Barclays analyst Meredith Adler wrote in a note to clients.
From the effectiveness of the diet, to the many free alternatives, here are some of the biggest issues challenging the brand.
The results are dubious at best.
Last year, Duke University executed a study comparing various retail-based weight loss regimes. Arguably, paying lots of money for a weight loss program would result in serious commitment, but the results did not come out in Weight Watchers’ favor.
Those who participated in Weight Watchers spent an average of $377 a year – for an average loss of just 5 pounds.
Of course, the program can work very well for some: Tech Insider’s Molly Mulshine lost 10 pounds by just using the app, which costs considerably less at $14 month. But for many, an app isn’t enough, and attending weekly meetings and having a supportive community is crucial to committing to a weight loss program. It’s up for debate if having Oprah back the business could inspire people to keep up their diets.
It’s not free.
Wall street analysts have already said that the company is trouble because of its cost. In a world in which people can use diet systems similar to Weight Watchers on their phones for considerably less – or for nothing at all – it doesn’t exactly seem worth it to stay on board.
Another option is MyFitnessPal, which tracks calories and nutrients for free.
The products aren’t nutritious – and the diet is going out of fashion
“Weight Watchers’ guidelines for healthy eating are simply unhealthy,” Dr. Joel Furhman wrote in a blog post, “and not supported by the most updated nutritional science.”
“Weight Watchers recommends a minuscule five total (half-cup) daily servings of fruits and vegetables combined; not nearly enough to achieve disease prevention,” he wrote. By focusing on “points” versus nutritious content, people can end up eating a diet full of Weight Watchers snacks, many of which contain artificial ingredients.
“This is evident when you look at Weight Watchers’ line of pre-packaged foods. They sell nutrient-poor, high-sodium, reduced-calorie processed products with lengthy ingredient lists,” he wrote.
That said, unlike a program like Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig, you can do Weight Watchers without buying all of the products – but the products are crucial component of the business, and most people who partake in the diet are, as Dr. Fuhrman, “he mainstream with their SAD (Standard American Diet) but dangerous dietary preferences.”
The company has been revamping its program to be more health and fitness oriented.
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That said, many people still swear by it, and those who can’t give up popcorn and sweets love the diet.
Oprah certainly has her loyal audience.
“The partnership with Oprah Winfrey, who has tremendous consumer recognition and influence, is likely to speed up considerably the process of re-introducing the revised Weight Watchers to consumers,” Barclays analyst Adler writes. “As an individual with a well-publicized weight management problem, Ms. Winfrey is particularly credible as an advocate for the company.”
But it’s still unclear whether Oprah can achieve the kind of success that investors are betting she will.