Sunday, May 3, 2009
Weight Watchers goes to China
Until last year, it had been a good 10 years since I had been to China. Coming back to visit in the Spring of 2008, I encountered a very different vision of the country I remembered from a decade ago. It's hard to miss the fact that China has gone through a massive economic transformation during this time. What is surprising is how quickly that transformation has impacted lifestyle and culture within that great country.
My memories of Shanghai were wet markets, filled with outdoor stalls, chickens scurrying about, eels swimming in outdoor fish tanks and buckets, and lots of mud and dust. Today, most of the wet markets are now enclosed, clean and modern and bear remarkable similarity to their equivalent markets in countries like Spain. Ten years ago hypermarkets like Carrefour and Wal-Mart were just beginning to appear. Now they are commonplace.
Ten years ago obesity was not an issue in China, but now the rush of prosperity has brought along many of its familiar Western trappings: big portions, unlimited food choices, remote controls, cars, etc. Nothing better illustrates this than the inside of a Carrefour, a beautiful, well-stocked store that any Western consumer would find thrilling. Such a sudden shift in lifestyle can only be expected to have the same kind of effect on China that it has had on obesity rates around the world. In fact, China now has among the fastest rates of obesity growth anywhere in the world.
Of particular note is the great wall of oil. Once upon a time, oil had to be used sparingly as it was rationed or difficult to find in quantity. Now it can be bought in massive multi-liter jugs very inexpensively. It's not uncommon for a family to go through one of these jugs in a mere month.
Enter Weight Watchers and our partner Group Danone. As of today, our China JV now has four Weight Watchers centers operating in Shanghai, and Weight Watchers Online for China
was launched just this past week. In one interesting test, we are running a fully functioning Weight Watchers center in the same Carrefour seen the above photographs. It's a beautiful center running meetings just like we do all over the world.
I like the fact that Weight Watchers is now here to help in China, and I feel it is our obligation to be anywhere there is an obesity issue. Which increasingly is most places.