Add Weight Watchers International (WTW) to the growing list of contenders in the meal kit wars.
The weight-loss company, whose investors include Oprah Winfrey, said on Thursday it was launching a line of so-called fresh food “quick prep” meal kits in partnership with FreshRealm that will be in grocery stores sometime in the second half of the year. Weight Watchers, which is enjoying something of a renaissance with a rebound in memberships, also announced it will begin selling kitchen tools, and now has a partnership with celebrity chef Eric Greenspan to create recipes that can be part of Weight Watchers’ new Freestyle program.
The moves are part of CEO Mindy Grossman’s efforts to branch out the company’s offerings well past its weight loss services.
“This is about more than weight, and more about a holistic approach, about health and wellness,” Grossman said at an industry conference on Thursday to discuss her strategy.
By going into the meal kits area, Weight Watchers is diving into an increasingly crowded market. Blue Apron (APRN) essentially created the space by offering customers ingredients and directions to allow even someone with limited cooking ability to prepare a good quality meal. But it’s now struggling to win new customers. Its shares fell 4% on the Weight Watchers news, continuing a sharp decline since the company went public last year.
Weight Watchers is also going up against Walmart, the largest grocer in the country which recently said it would launch its own meal kits. And last year supermarket chain Albertsons bought Plated. It’s easy to see why there’s a rush: Nielsen data shows that the in-store meal kit market grew 26.5% in the last year to $154.6 million.
And for Weight Watchers, it could help it build on its hot streak of late. Shares have soared to the upper $60-range, well above the $4 nadir they hit three years ago when it was contending with the loss of customers. But the company has spent on technology and updated its programs to make them more accessible to people seeking more flexibility. Indeed, the meal kits won’t be part of a subscription service.