10 Major Developments Influencing the Wellness Industry in 2016

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In August we started exploring wellness from an industry perspective, through the eyes of brands, industry professionals, entrepreneurs and investors; discovering what it is that shapes the business of wellness. This foray into industry news and business insights has shed a whole new light on what is driving consumer interest in the preservation and nourishment of mind and body.

Consideration of preventative healthcare and wellness is influencing everything, including the way individuals work, dress, socialise and travel. The growing cost of an aging population and chronic lifestyle disease is fuelling demand.

As a result, the concept of health and wellbeing is influencing a myriad of industry sectors, including (but certainly not limited to) technology, entertainment, hospitality, food and drink, fitness and fashion. In 2015 we saw wellness evolve as an established and well documented global industry in its own right.

So, rather than examining and projecting consumer trends for the year ahead – although these insights will certainly play a role in determining what comes next – we decided to start the year with 10 of the major developments that shaped the business of wellness in 2015, and how they will influence strategic decision making in 2016.

Instagram was a kind of rocket fuel for the industry.

Instagram became as useful to brands this year as it had already become for consumers, particularly for an emerging sector like wellness. For brands, it became an invaluable source of insight into consumer behaviour, competitive analysis and a clever tool for the evaluation of new and innovative ideas.

It also became the cheapest and most effective marketing channel of all time – allowing brands to quickly and cleverly communicate with millions of people across a range of demographics. And as the popularity of hashtags like #cleaneating #healthyliving and #fitfam suggest, this market is certainly big enough for everyone.

Wellness bloggers turned celebrities turned brands.

Bloggers and Instagrammers realised the enormous commercial potential that exists in a strong social media following and became brands in their own right. In many cases, backed by the negotiating power of agencies (who’ve also tapped into this burgeoning field), the big names in wellness have launched themselves into the spotlight with online platforms, product collaborations, events, and in some cases, even physical retail outlets.

Attracting fees for event appearances, endorsements, modelling contracts and ambassadorships, it is no surprise that wellness blogging has become a legitimate profession, in the same way that fashion afforded it. It is, however, becoming more difficult for brands to engage via social media, as consumers become more aware that influencers are being paid to post, meaning in 2016 collaborations will need to be much more innovative. 

Attitudes toward wellness shifted.

With the proliferation of content, ideas, and opinions around wellness (and a number of international scandals like the Belle Gibson case), attitudes toward wellness have shifted in a number of ways. Perfection is out and balance is in, as living well became a much more mainstream lifestyle choice.

An announcement from US Women’s Health magazine this week, epitomising the overall shift, will see a complete removal of the phrases “Bikini Body” and “Drop Two Sizes” from front covers – forever! In a public announcement to readers, Editor-in-Chief, Amy Keller Laird said: “Since our goal is always to pump you up, and never to make you feel bad, here’s our pledge: They’re gone.” Despite a number of extraordinarily successful brands being built on these concepts (including Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Challenge), the bold move, which has so far been well received, broadens the scope of definition that the publication’s audience can apply to health and wellbeing.

The elitist marketing of many brands will need to be replaced in 2016 by more inclusive messaging, should brands wish to move beyond a niche target audience of 16-30 year old females.

Major brands were forced to re-focus or risk failure.

With dieting and bikini body references out, some of the big players were being forced into the boardroom during 2015, to rethink their campaigns.

In the UK, supplement brand Protein World received significant backlash over its billboards which posed the question “Are you beach body ready?” – and were reported to the Advertising Standards Authority. And yet the company argued that what many described as a ‘PR fail’ had actually proved fruitful – generating 5,000 new customers in 4 days.

More established brands like Weight Watchers, who’d long held a majority share of the dieting market, were also forced to rethink their marketing strategy in order to align with current attitudes. In October, Oprah Winfrey bought 10% of the company, which served as a powerful launching pad for the decision to pivot away from calorie counting in favour of more balanced lifestyle choices.

Successful promotions for wellness oriented products and services will continue to be focused more broadly on boosting energy levels, happiness and longevity.

Wellness attracted the attention of investors.

We saw a record number of wellness startups attract significant investment in 2015 in the form of angel investment, crowdfunding and venture capital.

London based boutique fitness brand 1Rebel smashed records by raising $4.5m in crowdfunding to expand its current studio offering in London and eventually in the US. Co-founder, James Balfour, whose father founded international gym group Fitness First, set out to be as disruptive as possible, providing clients with a no-membership model, luxury interiors and high energy entertainment factor.

Meanwhile, the world’s leading provider of class bookings, ClassPass, raised an additional $30m in a series C round in November, led by Google Ventures – the corporate venture capital investment arm of Google. As a tech startup, ClassPass has gained significant media attention, playing an important role in raising the overall profile of the wellness sector.

Catterton, a leading US consumer-focused private equity firm, expanded its existing wellness portfolio, which already included Sweaty Betty, Pure Barre and Core Power Yoga, by investing $75 million in SoulCycle-rival, Peloton. The at-home fitness provider of live instructor-led spinning classes announced plans to use the funding to expand the brand globally.

In Asia, where wellness has enormous growth potential, PurelyB, a news website and directory, closed a $500k funding round to build Asia’s first online wellness marketplace.

Investors witnessed a troubling few months for cold pressed juice pioneer Organic Avenue, which filed for bankruptcy in October and was forced to close all stores across New York, but was later acquired for $1.7m.

The wellness industry globalised.

“London is at least 10 years behind New York,” was the line we were hearing this time last year. Although not quite as prolific, it is fair to say that anything New York’s wellness scene has to offer is now available to British consumers, just as it is in the Middle East and Asia Pacific. We saw cold pressed juice bars and boutique spin studios popping up everywhere from Jakarta to Berlin, and the gap is closing at rapid pace.  

Leading brands across boutique fitness, athleisure, food and drink, and technology are proving, through rapid international expansion, that the wellness industry is now a global one. And forward-thinking business leaders are being forced to take this into consideration.

ClassPass set the pace by launching its unlimited fitness studio access pass in three new countries in 2015; Australia, the UK and Canada – with London said to be its fastest growing market.

Franchising was a popular expansion strategy among boutique fitness brands, as Barry’s Bootcamp opened a second studio in London, Xtend Barre prepared to open its UK flagship in March 2016, and US market leader Pure Barre announced its launch into the Canadian market.

In athleisure, lululemon opened its third and fourth UK stores and set up showrooms in Paris, Munich, Zurich and Stockholm in a whirlwind promotional tour during September. Fueled by a desire to become a globally recognised brand, lululemon has responded to continued growth in the popularity of yoga.

Publishers battled it out to sign the next big wellness guru.

Healthy cookbooks gained significant traction for major publishing houses worldwide. First time authors like Tara Stiles, Joe Wicks and Ella Woodward rose to fame with their New York Times best-sellers and secured second, third (and in some cases fourth) book deals. Woodward’s debut recipe book ‘Deliciously Ella’ made history in the UK as the fastest selling debut cookbook of all time.

An entirely new category evolved for adult colouring books, indicative of the rise of stress and the wider acceptance of mindfulness as a proven technique to combat it. In June, half of Amazon’s top 10 titles were adult colouring-in books, as were six of Brazil’s top 10 non-fiction books. According to The Guardian, last year in France, the sale of colouring-in books totalled 3.5m.

Workplace wellness received a much needed makeover.

Workplace wellness was once considered an arbitrary obligation for the human resources department, if considered by companies at all. In 2015, it became a central tenant of productivity in the workplace and a symbol of the value employers place on their staff. According to research from the Global Wellness Institute, workplace wellness is valued at $40 billion globally with strong growth projections.

Companies leading the way with workplace wellness are beginning to recognise the importance of initiatives that inspire a greater commitment to overall wellbeing both at work and at home. And with numerous studies indicating that workplace wellbeing needs more work, innovative new organisations like The Well Living Lab, a collaboration between wellness real-estate pioneers, Delos and leading medical group, The Mayo Clinic, are spearheading cutting-edge research that could completely transform the indoor habitat.

The opportunity exists going forward, for more intuitive, reactive programs for employees, greater education, and more interesting ways of engaging with individuals on matters of health and wellbeing. And as the Global Wellness Summit identified, internal company offerings need to be more realistic – and not exist alongside demands for 12-hour workdays.

Wellness travel evolved far beyond the spa.

Stress is on the rise, but so is tourism – particularly in Asia. This year we reported on the rise of the ‘wellness hotel’ and the move beyond ‘just spa offerings’ into more holistic and transformational experiences away from home.

We’re wearing athleisure garments in transit and checking into fitness bootcamps and retreats, and in response, major hotel groups and airports are building in more appealing wellness offerings, procuring healthier menus and partnering with influencers to reposition themselves in the age of the wellness tourist.

Wellness is now a core part of the modern day tourist’s ideals and, as far as the high-end hotel chains and the tourism industry as a whole is concerned, is no longer considered a luxury but rather a necessity.

The Westin, by example, introduced an entire ‘Well-being Movement’ – a global initiative which inspires guests to discover new approaches to wellbeing. The brand-wide campaign, which cost Westin $15 million to launch, is an indication of just how much hoteliers are investing in order to stay ahead in the market and serve the new wellness-oriented tourist.

Tracking, measuring, dating: there is definitely an app for that.

We’re a generation addicted to our smartphones, so in 2015 we saw the creation of an app to tackle the mental health stigma, an app to help us find a personal trainer, fitness and nutritional guides designed by industry influencers and the rise of the wellness and beauty concierge (a la GlamSquad, Vaniday and Wahanda). You can even find a date that is as enthusiastic about fitness as you are, with the launch of the SWEATT app.

Fitbit fought to remain the king of the wearables market, but was challenged this year by the launch of the Apple watch and in Asia, Xiaomi’s low-cost Mi band. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), sales of wearable devices are expected to rise to 135 million units by 2019. And as far as the future of wearables goes, biowearables is said to be the next big thing.

Fitness studios are also building wearable devices for heart monitoring and other measurables into their classes. The USP for studios, is that heart rate monitors are able to give peace of mind to time-poor consumers who want to see that the workouts they are carrying out have been effective and worthwhile.

Are there any major developments you feel we missed? We’d love to hear from you via [email protected]

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