The brand's frozen offering is losing value as consumers tend toward healthy living rather than dieting.
Weight Watchers from Heinz saw its frozen-food business slump 16% in value in the year to 23 April from pounds 75m-pounds 80m to pounds 65m-pounds 70m, according to TNS Worldpanel's 2006 Biggest Brands survey for Marketing.
A significant factor has been owner Heinz's decision to focus on its ketchup, condiments and sauces, infant nutrition and quick-serve meals categories, and put its frozen-food businesses, which include its Weight Watchers licence, up for sale.
As a result, the Weight Watchers brand has suffered from a lack of investment; Heinz spent just pounds 18,136 on advertising its frozen range in the year to 31 July 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research.
However, after failing to attract a high enough bid for the business, Heinz decided to keep the brand, and is set to push more money behind it. After appointing VCCP to work on the account, its first new campaign will be a TV ad in January targeting post-Christmas dieters.
Weight Watchers' focus on balanced eating, which is seen as healthier than fads such as the Atkins diet, should stand it in good stead. It has launched lower-carbohydrate meals but stresses the benefits of a balanced diet with on-pack messages such as 'there is no such thing as a good or bad food'.
However, consumer perceptions of frozen foods remain negative and they are switching to healthier diets incorporating fresh rather than processed food. Mintel data shows that the frozen ready-meals sector as a whole dipped 13% last year to pounds 603m, while sales of chilled ready meals rose 33% between 2001 and 2004 to reach pounds 1.4bn.
The growth in supermarket own-label brands in the chilled section and their shift toward a more premium positioning has put further pressure on the Weight Watchers brand.
While its association with the Weight Watchers slimming club means it will always have a firm band of devotees, the brand needs to do more to attract a wider audience.
We asked Nick Jackson, group account director at Doner Cardwell Hawkins, who works on the Young's frozen-food business, and Tim Mortimer, managing partner at Mortimer Whittaker O'Sullivan, which handles the advertising for Ryvita, how the diet brand can broaden its appeal.
DIAGNOSIS 1 - NICK JACKSON GROUP ACCOUNT DIRECTOR, DONER CARDWELL HAWKINS
When I think of Weight Watchers, I can't help but think of Little Britain's Marjorie Dawes at Fatfighters. After buying and trying a selection of its ready meals, sadly, my perception remains the same.
At two for pounds 2 they are cheap, but the Tesco Healthy Eating chicken tikka masala was cheaper (five for pounds 4), bigger (450g vs 330g), had no artificial preservatives and tasted about the same.
Weight Watchers is caught in a time warp. Stuck in the frozen aisle while the majority of innovation and growth has been in the chilled section, it is all about dieting, while consumers are focusing on healthy living and wellbeing. Moreover, it remains old-school factory food laced with unpronounceable ingredients, while the world has gone natural.
A declining loyal customer base, combined with pressure from retailers to spend millions in support, as well as a recent history of cost cuts, puts the brand in a difficult position.
But with brands as famous as Weight Watchers and Heinz, you have to look for a route to growth.
- Relaunch and re-invest in the brand.
- Assume that dieting is a given; concentrate on delicious food.
- Do naturally healthy food rather than fatty recipes with the fat taken out.
- Consider launching a Weight Watchers Wellbeing range.
- Drop the 'dieter's recipe'. It appeals to Marjorie's victims but no one else.
- Be, look and act like the great food brand that Heinz should be.
DIAGNOSIS 2 - TIM MORTIMER MANAGING PARTNER, MWO ADVERTISING
We all know the nation is getting fatter, yet fewer people are claiming to be on a diet. At the same time, food manufacturers are all promoting the lower-fat message.
The trends driving the market are all about healthier living and eating, rather than the punitive health associated with diets. Consumers are less willing to sacrifice enjoyment when trying to be healthy.
Weight Watchers is a brand with strong heritage and high awareness, but its image does not feel contemporary - something not helped by Little Britain's portrayal of slimming classes.
It has struggled to compete with fad diets, such as Atkins, which offer miracle solutions. It also seems that some core elements of the brand may be limiting its appeal, especially to a younger audience.
A brand so closely associated with dieting as Weight Watchers must find a way to remain true to its purpose, while reflecting evolving consumer attitudes.
- Be the category leader. Weight Watchers must be a diet champion to stop it being knocked by diet fads.
- Innovate with communication and products to offer exciting choices.
- Build quality food credentials to stay in frozen or consider developing offerings in the chilled category.
- Find a way of creating a dialogue with customers that they will find relevant, interesting and likeable.
Source Citation:"Brand Health Check: Weight Watchers." Marketing (Sept 20, 2006): 22. Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 17 Sept. 2009
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