It’s January, which means an array of trendy diets — there’s going Paleo, veganism, the clean eating regime, and Oprah-backed Weight Watchers.
But Jenny Craig doesn’t have any of that. On the surface, it isn’t sleek. The food is pre-packed and largely frozen at a time when Americans are increasingly eschewing packaged foods.
But its unconventional strategy is thriving — the company says it has seen a 25% boost in memberships over the past year. Competitor Weight Watchers saw paying customers decline 16% in the most recent quarter.
The company says diets that come equipped with organic ingredients are not sustainable, which is where Jenny Craig — and its spokeswoman, chronic yo-yo dieter Kirstie Alley, come in. The program is catering to the majority of Americans, as CEO and President Monty Sharma told Business Insider, who do not have access to organic ingredients.
“Most of our food lineup today is not organic,” he said, noting that the inorganic food Jenny Craig largely serves up is “what consumers are consuming in their home. We have to be mindful of that — many of our consumers aren’t able to buy organic foods.” (The company did, however, purchase Kirstie Alley’s Organic Liaison supplements in 2014).
“If we just focused on organic, we would leave behind so many Americans that need to lose weight.”
And that’s the heart of Jenny Craig. Eating clean is noble, but it’s not a realistic feat for the majority of Americans — many of whom actually are obese, and aren’t looking to drop vanity pounds. Simply getting the proper nutrients — clean or dirty — is more crucial for them, as is ameliorating the obesity epidemic.
“I will tell you, that obesity is a bigger challenge in the middle part of America,” Sharma, who previous helped Atkins pull itself out of bankruptcy, said.
The idea behind Jenny Craig is that it’s something of a template to get people started. In a standard plan, customers eat the six packaged foods — three meals and three snacks — that the company provides for $15-23 a day, and clients work with consultants to help them understand their respective triggers. Do they eat out of boredom or when they feel a particular emotion?
The coaches help with what Sharma calls “behaviour modification,” to help clients shift their patterns so that when they’re completed with the program, they have the tools to help them go off onto their own. For examples, customers will know what a serving of Kung Pao beef looks like from Jenny Craig’s pre-packaged portions, and therefore, they will develop the ability to control themselves when they order take-out.
The notion of a coach is also unique, especially given the changes in the dieting industry since Jenny Craig was founded in 1983. Now, Sharma pointed out, people are equipped to do things on their own — or so it seems.
“I think that the wearable technology, both mobile wearable devices, has really shifted the way folks think about dieting,” Sharma said. “It’s given a lot more people the ability to go and do it themselves taking different foods and tracking them on their trackers.”
He explained that he thinks this particularly affects younger consumers. “The younger folks that come into dieting [for] the first time — they need to lose five pounds, ten pounds — that is how they enter the space. So we’ve definitely seen that develop.”
But once again: Jenny Craig isn’t targeting that consumer. In fact, it’s after anyone who hasn’t been able to keep up with those changes. It’s there to console those who are lost at sea when they have to measure things, incorporate technological devices, and have to count things out themselves.
“Jenny Craig is that company that says, ‘look we understand — not everyone can track, count, measure,'” he said. “We’ll be there for those that cannot do that, because it is very difficult to do that. So our target it specifically 35-plus, men and women — that’s the age when you typically have a lot going on — you have children, you have to take them places, and food’s all over the place…. you’ve got people in the family, so that’s when Jenny Craig comes into a need and that’s who we target specifically.”
Even more revealing is the company’s relatively recent acquisition. In late 2013, the company, which was previously held by Nestle, was acquired by North Castle to form a partnership with Curves — an affordable, women-only gym that was popular in the ’90s.
Sharma believes that partnering with an exercise company sends a strong message.
“I do think that once you get to your weight loss goals, having a healthy exercise program is important, because that’s what helps you keep it off, and hence we have Curves and Jenny Craig together,” he said.
He also said he believes exercise is important, but he said that when it comes to losing weight, “most studies show that 70% of a weight loss program has to do with nutrition and 30% exercise — I would agree that because I’ve seen that over the years. “
Still, for a company that’s not charting its territory with sleek innovations and diet buzzwords, the company says it’s moving forward with the changing wellness climate by introducing four new foods a month, and more notably, by incorporating a new plan for Type 2 diabetes. But even more telling is that Jenny Craig is launching a Starter Kit at Walmart, as an addition to its already-established 600-plus units.
Ultimately, Jenny Craig isn’t here to be the cool kid on the diet block, it’s just trying to work for people who need it.
And then there’s Kirstie Alley, the infamous yo-yo dieter who always bounces back with the program. A recent ad campaign shows her in her svelte form reuniting with her former “Cheers” co-stars, sending messages to consumers that if she can bounce back, maybe they can, too.
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