Australian companies are racing to develop apps and build communities as the wellness industry grows increasingly competitive

Australian companies are racing to develop apps and build communities as the wellness industry grows increasingly competitive
  • Established companies in health and fitness have transformed their offerings to join the burgeoning holistic wellness space.
  • Along with startups like homegrown fitness app Sweat and fitness influencers, businesses now market products and services that go beyond physical appearance.
  • The wellness market is now centred around apps and building a “thriving online community”.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

As the health and wellness industry has exploded in recent years, with tech-driven organisations like Peloton and Sweat capturing market share and reshaping the sector, established brands have rushed to adapt, pivoting to embrace a new approach that values a more holistic approach to health. 

One notable example is Weight Watchers, the U.S.-based weight loss company.

As the Western wellness industry transformed its values to align with the ideals of the body positivity movement, companies like Weight Watchers lost business and brand equity.

In the past decade, however, Weight Watchers — which has a global reach that spans Australia and New Zealand — has rebranded as WW, launched an app, and has adjusted to a digitally savvy and highly competitive market.

Nicole McInnes, director of marketing for WW in Australia and New Zealand, has been behind that push in Australia. 

“Our strategy is in really making sure people understand what WW now stands for, which is more around holistic health and wellness of everybody whatever shape or size they are,” McInnes said. 

Because the company has such strong brand recognition, it has had to battle to ensure that people know “it’s no longer just a meeting company” but a “health and wellness app” in line with other major brands.

There’s an app for that 

The contemporary fitness market is now centred around apps, whether the core product is a piece of equipment, like Peloton, or a workout tracker, like Australian workout app Sweat, which was recently sold for an eye watering $400 million to global tech fitness company iFIT.

In a survey conducted in 2018, 47% of Australian respondents said they used a health app. 

Fitness influencers have also flooded this market, creating their own custom fitness apps as an additional income stream.

These apps generally mirror content offered by the larger fitness companies, with instructional videos performed by the influencer, as well as recipes and other resources.

And as tech-driven fitness has grown, the weight loss industry, which was once big business, has lost out. 

The market size of the weight loss services industry in Australia declined 1.5% per year on average between 2016 and 2021, as it has faced competition from gyms and a new wave of health and fitness companies.

It’s the reason why many companies have pivoted to rebrand themselves to align with new breed companies. 

Nicole McInnes, director of marketing for WW in Australia and New Zealand.

McInnes said WW is now primarily a “digital health and wellness solution”, with nearly 80% of Australian and New Zealand members following the program purely via the app.

This strategy is working for the company, she said, with over 100,000 active users in the ANZ region, and a digital subscriber base that has grown more than 25% in 2020. 

Retreat from extremes

Libby Grey, marketing and operations manager at Michelle Bridges Group, told Business Insider Australia that the industry as a whole has “moved away from being solely focused on weight loss, counting calories and the ‘all or nothing’ approach”. 

Even for the company, which began 11 years ago following the success of personal trainer Michelle Bridges’ gruelling 12-week weight-loss program on the Network Ten reality show The Biggest Loser, marketing around weight loss as an end goal is no longer the leading message. 

“The industry now focuses more on total wellbeing and a balanced mentality,” Grey said. 

Since its founding, the company has exploded into a full-scale health brand spanning an app and 16 programs dedicated to specific categories, catering to men, pregnant women and the over 50s to name but a few.

Grey said the expansion of services offered went beyond the company’s growth. Offering digital services was now essential to succeed in the space, she said.

Tushar Menon, co-founder of health food company My Muscle Chef (MYMC), told Business Insider Australia the range of people that buy their products has expanded dramatically since the early days of the business, which he founded with his brother in 2013.

“As a full-time worker and regular gym goer, much of my night was spent in the kitchen meal-prepping,” Menon said. 

His company was born out of a desire to find pre-made meals geared toward specific fitness goals in a market dominated by “generic brands for middle-aged people who wanted to lose weight”.

“There was nothing out there for people who wanted performance nutrition to fuel their workouts like me.”

While the company began as a solution to Menon’s desire to create a product that would meet his needs — protein-packed premade meals that would help him reach his physical goals at the gym — over time, the company has expanded its perspective around who its customers could be. 

“In the beginning, we thought our primary customer was mostly interested in meals that would improve their athletic performance and muscle gains, so we started with a mindset that combined the best of a personal trainer and a chef,” Menon said. 

But the space has evolved as more high quality options have come on the market. 

The customer base for pre-made, healthy food has expanded from gym junkies. And the busy professionals who might have once stocked their fridges with frozen meals now expect a premium product. 

“Eight years on, we’ve transformed our menu to include options suited to a much broader variety of fitness goals and outcomes,” Menon said.

“Today, MYMC doesn’t just cater to traditional gym-goers; in fact almost 50% of our customers are women, and 60% of our customers choose MYMC for convenience.”

People expect more from health and fitness companies

McInnes said WW’s overhaul was based on an awareness that consumers now expect more from brands. 

As a result, what were formerly known as its members are now a “thriving online community”. The WW app interface mimics Instagram and has new features like 24-hour access to nutrition coaches and a mindfulness program created in collaboration with mediation company Headspace.

The program was designed to speak to consumers that are looking for services that take a holistic approach to weight loss, McInnes said. 

“We added in meditations from Headspace back in 2018, alongside the rebrand towards holistic wellness, because we knew that we just have to get people thinking positively about themselves to be successful in the journey,” she said.  

Tracking sleep was another addition to the program. “Sleep is another thing that really impacts weight loss and wellness, so putting sleep into the app was really important so people could just be mindful that their whole health is impacted — and can be tracked and improved with this app.”

The Michelle Bridges Group has taken a similar route, Grey said, with an app that offers 1,200 recipes and “hundreds of workout videos that we continue to add to”.

Menon said MYMC has taken on a “coach” mentality in how it sells and markets to its consumers, with a newsletter, blog and curated “goal-based” plans that seek to educate and personalise its offering. 

This mindset shift has “manifested in shifting our focus to talking about the holistic benefits of good nutrition,” Menon said. “We’re really focused on instilling body positivity by providing accessible and nutritious meals to support every goal and not just providing fuel for workouts.”

He said this approach is part of what’s behind the company’s growth in recent years — significantly expanding its product range and adding breakfast, snack and drink options.

“We are well established in food and fitness, but our reach [now] extends beyond those worlds,” Menon explained. “We focus on our personal relationships with our customers.

“We’re not just a ready-made meal service, but there to give customers the support and inspiration they need in order to live an active and healthy life.”