WW International CEO talks wellness

NEW YORK (AP) — When the pandemic hit in March, WW International quickly pivoted its entire operations online. The company, formerly known as Weight Watchers, trained 14,000 coaches and moved 30,000 workshops online in six days.

That move under Mindy Grossman, who joined WW as CEO in 2017, is one of many that has helped the 57-year-old company react to the new demands of its members increasingly focused with wellness during a pandemic.

WW had been expanding beyond weight loss before COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated those plans. In November, it launched the latest enhancement for its program called myWW+, which offers deeper personalized insights into such areas as mindset and sleep. It also launched Digital 360, an online tool specifically for millennials that offers coaching services on fitness and nutrition.

The New York-based company now runs virtual workshops 16 hours a day, seven days a week, in addition to whatever physical locations remain open. It sees the virtual offerings as a key way to recruit new members who want flexibility in when and how they want to interact.

Still, WW International has sharply reduced its physical presence globally. At the onset of the pandemic, it had 850 branded locations and 2,300 third-party sites in the U.S. Now, it has 650 of its own locations and has partnered with different hotels with 200 sites. Still, it’s been able to accommodate 70% of the population within a half-hour drive. All these efforts have helped bolster its subscriber base and increase online business.

During an interview with The Associated Press, Grossman, who has nearly 40 years of consumer brand-building experience, talked about some of WW’s strategies. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. How has COVID-19 changed consumers’ approach to wellness?

A. People are going through what we are calling a radical reappraisal of how they live, how they work, what they value and what they want in life, and health has become much, much higher in their thought process than it ever was before. I think people are acutely aware that issues like obesity, diabetes, etc., have been very significant factors in COVID deaths. So people are really looking for solutions that they can integrate within their life.

Q. What is the average age of WW members?

A. 51% of (our) cohorts are under 45. We have a mix of permanent subscribers, lapsed subscribers and new (subscribers). And I would say in the category of new, that has definitely been a younger cohort.

Q. What are you doing as cases spike around the country?

A. We are acutely monitoring everything that is happening to make sure we are ensuring health and safety. We are in 12 different countries. We have to look at it across the world, where there are shutdowns, which is why we pivoted so aggressively, to be able to create a virtual solution for our members that want that accountability.

Q. What kind of specific habits are you seeing as a result of the pandemic?

A. We can see behavior in real time. We can see what people are tracking. People are eating at home a lot more. So things like meal planning, recipes, healthy eating. That is what has been great for people. They are also working out more at home at different hours because the boundaries have changed. The overwhelming sense of community is stronger than ever. People are looking for others for motivation and support. Lastly, they want to get back to habit and routine and accountability.

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This story has been updated to correct that WW International has trained 14,000 coaches, not 15,000.

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