According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 34% of U.S. adults were classified as overweight in 2021. That’s about 87 million people.
So it’s perhaps no surprise the U.S. weight loss market grew 15% in 2022 to a total value of $75 billion, per research firm Marketdata.
That should be good news for players in the space. Nevertheless, 40-year-old weight loss brand Jenny Craig shut its doors for good in May 2023.
The news was first reported by NBC, which cited an “inability to secure additional financing.”
The story of Jenny Craig is now a cautionary tale about a once-popular brand that ultimately failed over time to meet the changing needs of consumers as behaviors evolved and alternatives expanded.
A dated experience
Founded by the eponymous Craig and her husband Sid in 1983, Jenny Craig offered pre-prepared meals, desserts and snacks, along with in-person and phone consultations to help its members lose weight. At its height in the early 1990s, the company reportedly had nearly 700 locations in four countries and brought in more than $365 million in annual revenue.
During this time period, the brand grew to boast an enviable roster of celebrity spokespeople, including Jason Alexander, Kirstie Alley, Valerie Bertinelli, Queen Latifah — and even Monica Lewinsky.
And while Jenny Craig made some efforts to modernize — including a 2019 partnership with Walgreens that intended to bring 100 in-store Jenny Craig outposts to retail locations across the U.S., as well as the launch of a meal delivery service called Jenny Fresh in January 2023 — it proved too little, too late.
“As a brand, I would say they’ve rested on their laurels,” said Gary J. Nix, chief strategy officer at marketing agency the Brandarchist.
That’s because Jenny Craig achieved a certain level of success — becoming a household name, in fact — and, according to Nix at least, failed to adequately evolve thereafter.
For example, the brand’s physical locations,where members met with coaches and picked up meals and snacks,remained an integral part of the experience even after many brands migrated to an online experience during the pandemic. While virtual consultations and meal delivery were eventually also available at Jenny Craig, it wasn’t immediately clear when these alternatives were introduced.
According to Greg Carlucci, senior director analyst at Gartner, there’s less of an incentive for consumers to visit stores when there’s a comparable experience online — and that makes it hard for a brand like Jenny Craig to grow.
Nix agreed: “If you’re not figuring out ways to land or innovate, you’re going to get forgotten about more and more until you’re not getting new customers from new demographics or new communities.”
Weight Watchers, or WW, on the other hand, was founded 20 years earlier than Jenny Craig and has continuously pivoted ever since. As a result, it has grown from an initial 400-person meeting in Queens, New York in 1963 to include a cookbook and celebrity spokespeople like Sarah Ferguson and, of course, Oprah, along with a points system, an app and a members-only social platform.
“What happens when you stagnate…all you’re doing is creating more avenues for competition,” Nix said. “The key is to make sure that you evolve.”
A new consumer mindset
What’s more, attitudes to weight loss — and food itself — have changed drastically since 1983.
Instead of the low-fat diets that were popular in the ‘90s, consumers are now zeroing in on gluten and lactose — and overall wellness.
According to a PwC report on consumer habits, eating has become an integral part of the American lifestyle and dovetails with consumers’ day-to-day activities and values. That’s in part why we see more products labeled vegan and fair trade — and growth in the clean eating movement.
This new attitude is espoused by former Jenny Craig spokesperson Bertinelli, who revisited her 2009 People magazine cover story in which she wore a bikini for the first time in 30 years, noting it later brought her both pride and shame. In 2022, she told the Washington Post she regretted being part of a diet culture that didn’t celebrate women at any size and she no longer believed getting down to the smallest possible size should be the #1 goal.
WW, on the other hand, has arguably responded better to this shift as it rebranded in 2018 to embrace more of a focus on wellness and healthy habits.
“Traditional dieting methods have given way to a holistic approach that emphasizes overall well-being and sustainable lifestyle changes,” said Susan Anderson, founder of product guide site The Worthy Goods.
In addition, consumers want personalized experiences that include mental and emotional health, which is arguably another place Jenny Craig lagged.
“Understanding these evolving consumer behaviors is crucial for brands to remain relevant and successful in the weight loss market,” Anderson noted.
Jenny Craig rose to power in an era when the weight loss market was dominated by shakes from SlimFast, pills like Acutrim and Dexatrim and Suzanne Somers’ ThighMaster.
In 2023, wellness-focused consumers have far greater access to alternatives, including fresh food from delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Instacart to meal kits like Hello Fresh and Purple Carrot and QSRs like Sweetgreen and Just Salad. Against this backdrop, Jenny Craig’s 100 meal options were somewhat limited by comparison — and didn’t accommodate consumers with specific dietary needs.
Jenny Craig seems to have realized this too late with the launch of its Jenny Fresh meal delivery service coming just four months before its demise. Nix noted there was a missed opportunity here, although the brand could have also partnered with an existing player to help reach new members.
And then, of course, there’s other alternatives like the increasingly popular weight loss drug Ozempic.
“The rise of other brands…has also contributed to the decline of Jenny Craig,” said Chris Watson, CEO of the nutrition website EatForLonger.com. “These brands have been able to capitalize on the changing consumer preferences by offering more personalized and tailored services.”
This article originally appeared on Campaign US.