How dieters size up the slimming plans

Being a well-known brand is the main reason slimmers pick a diet plan, but there are other factors which the less high-profile products can exploit.


In the weight-loss market, one brand has by far the biggest slice of the pie.

Despite a growing number of alternatives for body-conscious consumers, Weight Watchers still has more than twice the share of its nearest rival, according to research shown exclusively to Marketing Week. From a sample of 989 dieters, Lightspeed Research reveals that 44% are using a Weight Watchers programme, with Slimming World a distant second with 18% and Tesco Diets with 8%.

There is a long tail of smaller brands with a 1% or less share of the market by volume. Nearly a quarter of all dieters is using one of these plans.

The shadow cast by Weight Watchers over its competitors shows the paramount importance of a recognisable brand name in this market, says Lightspeed marketing director Ralph Risk. Its challengers are struggling to catch up, though Tesco has points in its favour, he says.


“Not only do other products have to compete with Weight Watchers’ more established brand awareness, but they also have to look at its [wide] product range as well, which is not an easy step. Launching a diet programme [a club, website or similar] is a lot easier than launching a whole range of products, which the more established ones have. Because Tesco has the distribution and the production facilities, it could be in a stronger position to challenge the leader,” Risk says.

The power of brand awareness is apparent in the finding that consumers spend little time researching the market before plumping for a particular weight-loss programme. As many as 45% of people say they chose one brand without shopping around, and the majority, 88%, considered no more than three, despite 61% of people saying they believe there are more brands to choose from than a year ago.

As well as pedigree in the market and visibility on the shelves, diet brands have other means of increasing awareness. The most obvious of these is an association with a well-known personality. Rosemary Conley’s range of weight-loss plans, fitness clubs and food products benefits from her history of appearances on television and in exercise videos. The Rosemary Conley brand is the fourth most popular of those in the survey, with 4% of dieters using it (see her comments in The Frontline, below).

Personal touch: Jenny Craig is a new entrant to the UK diet market
Personal touch: Jenny Craig is a new entrant to the UK diet market

Jenny Craig, a new entrant to the UK market, is already well-established in the US and the founder’s native Australia, where she has a much more prominent profile. Though Craig sold the company before the UK launch last April, marketing director Helen Bichard still believes that if she can convince consumers that the name on the products is in fact a real person who has followed her own diet plan it would help contribute to the awareness and credibility of the brand (see The Frontline, below).

The brands that lag behind in terms of awareness are apparently in a double-bind, considering what consumers name as their main motivations for picking a diet plan. A third of people say their principal reason for making a choice is first-hand evidence of positive results – from friends and family (19%) or their own (14%). Clearly, to generate conversations and therefore recommendations from peers, a certain level of awareness is needed to get people to try and to trust a brand in the first place.

“You do need to have the awareness because people are not going to look around a lot,” says Risk. “The quandary comes from the fact trust comes from usage. The brands that people may not have used so much will be less trusted because they have not had a chance to build it up.”

Calories do count: Rosemary Conley attracts a wide age range and emphasises fast weight
Calories do count: Rosemary Conley attracts a wide age range and emphasises fast weightloss

Indeed the level of trust enjoyed by each of the brands in the survey correlates closely with their relative popularity. Weight Watchers is the only weight loss brand that a majority of consumers (62%) say they would trust to help them lose weight. For all the other brands, the majority of people are either neutral or do not trust them.

Trust also drops off quickly the less well-known the brand is: Slimming World is trusted by 45%, Rosemary Conley by 29% and Tesco Diets by 23%. Men, however, generally trust the lesser known brands more than women and trust the more popular brands less.

Marketers for weight loss companies say that word of mouth is the most important way to bring new customers to their brands. Many seem to be growing their customer base on the strength of this, despite the dominance of Weight Watchers and the increasing level of competition (see The Frontline). However, even before establishing a base of customers and advocates, a new brand must be ready to demonstrate results from the beginning.

Catriona O’Brien, head of marketing and business development for Tesco Diets, says consumer research will help new brands survive. “I do not think any weight-loss programme new to the market would struggle to demonstrate results because usually it would have done significant trials in advance. Nobody is going to enter this market unless they have got results that prove their programme works, or they certainly should not,” she says.

LighterLife: Proven results and prepared foods help to boost a brand’s appeal
LighterLife: Proven results and prepared foods help to boost a brand’s appeal

Whether brands are trusted initially or not, once consumers sign up to a programme, they generally claim to have positive experiences. Two-thirds of dieters say that since starting they have lost weight, while 78% say they believe their habits will change permanently as a result.

There may be an element of optimism to these figures, however. Jenny Craig’s Bichard says that according to her brand’s own research, 40% of people who come off a diet end up heavier than they were before starting. She attributes this to a focus on short-term goals and a failure by some diet programmes to instil lasting healthy habits.

Slimming methods vary greatly across the different providers. Some plans concentrate on calorie counts, while others put an emphasis on general eating habits and exercise. Levels of support also vary, and there is a range of services from online advice to keep-fit classes.

This variety helps to create the differentiation that enables so many competing brands to emerge and coexist. As Lightspeed’s Risk says: “There is a good opportunity to break into a lucrative market.”


Simplicity appears to be a significant attraction, however. Asked for their main reason for joining a programme, 14% of people say “It was easy to follow”, making it the third most popular reason. It is the top answer, given by 38%, when dieters are asked to name any number of influences over the decision.

Risk says: “In today’s society, things have to be simple. People are busier and busier and they want something that fits into their quite often hectic lifestyles. Programmes that show that will be much more likely to succeed.”

the frontline



Helen Bichard
UK marketing director

Jenny Craig

We are a nation of yo-yo dieters. According to our statistics, 90% of women will have dieted at some point in their life, and 60% claim to be continuously on a diet. Because of this frustration and cyclical dieting, dieters tend to have tried all the well-known brands. In the last survey we did, about three-quarters of our target audience had tried at least one of those diets at least once.

Unlike a milkshake or a pill, we are not promising that you are going to drop a dress size in a day. We follow government guidelines exactly, which are that safe, sustainable weight loss is between one and two pounds a week.

We have just done our own survey with our clients about why they joined. Because we are a new brand and are building awareness, TV [advertising] was voted the most important thing. But 20% of people joined because friends or family had successfully lost weight on the programme – which also shows up as important in the Lightspeed research.


Catherine Fox
Marketing manager

Slimming World

Brand awareness is important, but we don’t really spend money on national advertising because people tend not to believe national advertising alone. As the research suggests, word of mouth is one of the biggest aspects of why people come along to our groups. We feel that is down to [the fact] that we spend more of our money training our consultants. In the last two years we have achieved 31% growth.

We do not target [men and women] differently at the moment. In our current advertising materials, we have a combination of men and women, and all ages, just to show the real variety of people that may and do come along to our groups.

Our messages focus on the fact that with our eating plan, members do not have to spend time counting points or calories. Many people’s perception of diets is that you have to deprive yourself and then spend time counting and limiting yourself. Our messages focus strongly on eating healthy, filling foods.


Rosemary Conley

Rosemary Conley Diet & Fitness Clubs

The difference between myself and, say, Weight Watchers is that I am the brand. It is me as a person that people believe or disbelieve. I am quite unusual in this market in that I have spanned two generations. The children of the mums or the grandmas that used to buy my Hip and Thigh Diet 23 years ago, and bought my videos, have now grown up and have memories of working out with mum to one of them.

Because of this, we cover all of the age groups in our magazine. But we also recognise that there is a massive older market who want to live life to the full. I am 64 now, so there is obviously going to be a sense of going slightly to the older woman [in terms of target audience].

People know, if they have any understanding of dieting, that calorie counting is the way to do it if you want to lose weight effectively. If you want fast weight loss, this is where you come.


Catriona O’Brien
Head of marketing and business development

Tesco Diets

Obviously as a Tesco-branded business, we have huge opportunities to promote what we do through Tesco channels. We have also partnered with Closer magazine and This Morning, and we offer white-label solutions targeted at their audiences as well.

We have branding across a range of products within our stores. The Light Choices range and the Healthy Living range, for example, have branding for Tesco Diets on them. We have done a lot of in-store activity as well in the past.

As the research suggests, the most effective marketing method is word of mouth. Weight is such an emotive subject and when people have made the decision to lose weight or adopt a healthier diet or lifestyle, they want something that will give them results. Positive word of mouth is absolutely crucial and that is why all the players in the market are now using social media, forums, blogs and review sites.





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