2021 In Review: The Wellness Industry’s Defining Moments

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From meteoric mergers and head-to-head battles to groundbreaking partnerships and industry-wide wake-up calls, in 2021, the wellness industry continued to demonstrate exponential growth, agility and innovation. And as usual, we tracked and reported all of the breaking news, insights and intelligence that fed into your decision making and enabled you to chart your own course for success.

Here we revisit some of the wellness industry’s most defining moments of the past year, including the fitness industry’s big bounce-back, the brand’s revolutionising inclusivity, Peloton’s fiercest feuds and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic…

Despite the continued impact of COVID-19, gyms and fitness studios proved they’re on course for a roaring recovery

As lockdowns and restrictions finally began to lift around the globe, leading fitness studios including 1REBEL, BXR, TRIB3, Body Fit Training, Rumble and more signed new franchise agreements, launched additional studios and welcomed consumers back to existing properties.

And despite fears, the lockdown-inspired home workout boom would spell the end for fitness facilities, Les Mills research – featuring insights from 12,157 consumers across five continents – suggested in-person workouts are enjoying a “live revival” around the globe.

In fact, the 2021 Les Mills Global Fitness Report found gyms worldwide were making strong recoveries since reopening, with class occupancy up 20% on pre-COVID levels in markets where capacity restrictions have been lifted.

“Consumers are taking an omnichannel approach to their training to stay more active, mixing thrilling live workouts at the gym with the convenience of digital workouts at home,” Phillip Mills, Les Mills Founder and Executive Director said of the findings. Read more

2021 Les Mills Global Fitness Report found gyms worldwide were making strong recoveries since reopening,

Image: Les Mills

18 Months On From Black Lives Matter the industry showed it still has work to do

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, diversity and inclusion have become much more front of mind for the wellness industry but progress has been stunted.

“The short of it is not much has changed,” Sarah Greenidge, Founder of WellSpoken — an accreditation scheme for the sector — told Welltodo back in November.

She continued: “Covid has been a real shock to the wellness industry. We’re only starting to see studios open and events starting up again. The movement we were looking to see hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet – but that’s not to say it won’t.”

Greenidge argued that so far the majority of progress has come from consumer pressure, rather than being driven internally by brands. “It’s not been pushed from an ethical standpoint, more from consumer pressure. That’s still promising, but it’s going to take a while until we see the wellness industry as being intrinsically inclusive,” she explained. “We’re still a way off from that.”

The real test will come, she said, when the pressure of Covid is off and there are no more excuses. Read more

Market consolidation sparked new growth and opportunities across categories

Major mergers between Mindbody and ClassPass and Headspace and Ginger demonstrated the opportunities that exist for wellness businesses to consolidate their expertise and audiences to propel growth and futureproof their propositions for the post-covid landscape.

In September Headspace and Ginger — two of the wellness industry’s biggest brands — announced their intention to merge, citing the strategic move as an opportunity to create “the world’s most accessible and comprehensive digital mental health and wellbeing platform”.

As recognition of the fluid nature of mental health and the evolving needs of individuals grows, it’s a smart move to create a more integrative and nuanced offering that can cater to people as their needs ebb and flow. And it has the potential to further establish both brands as leaders within the industry.

In October, leading wellness experience platform Mindbody announced it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire wellness subscription service ClassPass.

In one of the most seismic deals to hit the wellness industry since the coronavirus pandemic struck, the acquisition will bring two of the sector’s most prominent leaders together, creating a one-stop shop for both business owners and consumers.

“We’re bringing together the number one player in B2B and number one player in B2C and really helping the industry get back on its feet after months of closures and restrictions. Together we’ll be leading the industry out of Covid and really powering this new era of wellness,” Josh McCarter, Mindbody CEO told Welltodo  Read more

Mindbody announced it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire wellness subscription service ClassPass

Image: Classpass

As competition intensified Peloton sued….well…..everybody

As competition within the connected fitness category intensified at an alarming rate, pioneer Peloton took steps to protect its leading position via a series of lawsuits against its rivals.

In November, the indoor cycling brand announced it was suing Echelon and iFit over claims both brands had infringed patents relating to its products and features. At the time, Peloton argued that both companies were “profiting immensely from this infringement” and gaining “free rides” from its innovative technology.

In court documents filed by Peloton, the brand claimed Echelon’s bikes, treadmills and rowing machines infringe a patent associated with its leaderboard function which enables users to compare their performance during live classes. In its case against iFit, Peloton noted how the company’s bikes, treadmills and ellipticals infringe four patents relating to the same leaderboard function, as well as the use of technology that automatically adjusts aspects of a user’s workout speeds based on performance.

Less than a month later, the brand went after athleisure giant Lululemon in response to claims from the Canadian company that its recently launched apparel line infringed on Lululemon’s patent designs and utilised trade secrets.

As the big dogs continue to battle it out, is this a sign the market is becoming more cutthroat — and what does that mean for innovation and competition moving forward? Read more

Challenger brands redefined wellness for the better

From straight-talking and unapologetic menopause brands to raw and unfiltered beauty and skincare startups, disruptive challengers have proven that success can come from championing both underserved demographics and a less filtered and polished approach to wellness. 

Across the entire wellness industry, this has led to a shift that is creating a more inclusive and diverse version of wellness — a trend we cover in our 2022 Consumer Wellness Trend Report.

In November, one such brand — For Them, launched backed by $2 million in pre-seed funding. The game-changing brand, founded by entrepreneur Chloe Freeman after they became frustrated with not being able to find any wellness products that spoke to them or their peers, debuted with two initial products for the queer community: a breathable binder and multi-use intimacy serum. The long-term vision is to create a pipeline of products that reflect the wellness needs and identities of non-binary people.

Freeman hopes they can create a more holistic approach to wellness based on the idea that “queerness and gender diversity exists, and that as unique individuals we all have unique needs”. Read more

Sustainable and ethical initiatives rose to the forefront of business

As brands including Lululemon, Unilever, The Nue Co. and more drilled deeper into their commitment to social impact through investment in regenerative agriculture, supporting local communities and incorporating more sustainable practices into their business structures, the wellness industry demonstrated its commitment to pushing the boundaries when it comes to safeguarding the health of the planet.

As shared in our 2022 Consumer Wellness Trends Report, in 2021 this gave way to a number of industry-changing collaborations and initiatives that would have been unheard of previously.

Building on a partnership inked in 2020 that saw adidas and allbirds linked up to launch the lowest carbon footprint ever recorded for a sports performance shoe and unlock the opportunity to set a new industry standard in the fight against climate change.

Elsewhere, athleisure brand TALA took another step towards its mission of making sustainability more accessible by launching exclusive collections via online retailer ASOS, while CPG Giants Henkel, L’Oréal, LVMH, Natura &Co and Unilever announced a new global collaboration to co-develop an industry-wide environmental impact assessment and scoring system for cosmetics products.

What these brands have proven, is that carving out a clear and trusted identity built on driving positive change is not only becoming a crucial brand strategy in meeting the moment but also in winning it. Read more

The plant-based food market continued to grow at an exponential rate

Image: Impossible Foods

The plant-based food market continued to grow at an exponential rate

A new report by Bloomberg Intelligence (BI) found that the plant-based meat and dairy sectors are poised for explosive growth — with the market estimated to exceed $162 billion in value within the next decade.

It suggested that sales for plant-based meat and dairy alternatives will outpace conventional products, driven by innovation, production capacity, lower retail prices and consumer acceptance.

The report also highlighted brands such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Oatly, as helping to propel the sector by driving awareness via retail and restaurant partnerships. In addition, growing consumer demand for healthy and sustainable options is also acting as a catalyst for growth.

But what will be the biggest driver of the market’s overall growth? A rise in competition, the report predicted.

As upstarts and incumbents alike continue to enter and innovate within the space this will drive consumer interest and engagement and bring plant-based prices further in line with meat products. This, BI argued, will be crucial for sustained growth. Read more

Athletes turned investors poured millions of dollars into the industry

Huge amounts of money from professional athletes like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Serena Williams, Andy Murray and more continued to flow into the industry via multi-million dollar funding rounds across categories including recovery, connected fitness, mental health and CBD.

Having the same high-profile athletes these products and services were designed for, as investors, has helped to sweeten the sales pitch for brands like WHOOP, Tonal and Hyperice.

In the case of Tonal, the clout, credibility and cultural currency of having superstar athletes like Serena Williams and Stephen Curry financially and vocally invested, has been invaluable.

Not only in terms of tapping into their highly engaged, multi-million-sized audiences but in reaffirming the product’s authenticity as a trusted tool used by some of the highest-performing elites in the world.

The wider strategy being, that by genuinely catering to the high end of the market, eventually, that adoption will translate into mass sales. Read more

Athletes turned investors poured millions of dollars into the industry

Image: Lebron James X Tonal

Health and fitness tracking enjoyed a renaissance

Over the past 12 months, tracking, testing and tracing became a ubiquitous part of our daily lives.

In the fight against coronavirus, government-led campaigns gave new prominence and value to the use of cutting-edge technology and science in understanding our bodies and protecting the health of ourselves and others, wearable device sales boomed. And, a recent report: “Forecast Analysis: Wearable Electronic Devices, Worldwide,” revealed that users will spend $81.5 billion on trackers and fitness devices in 2021, up 18% from $69 billion last year.

In response, pioneers across the entire wellness ecosystem have been creating category-defining products and services, in which peak health can be achieved in a more simplified, connected and convenient way –– this is helping to form burgeoning sub-categories.

In August, beauty giant L’Oréal announced a partnership with period-tracking app Clue to connect the dots between skin health and the menstrual cycle. The collaboration will see L’Oréal utilise data from Clue’s app to co-create in-app skin-care advice related to hormones. 

Elsewhere, brands such as WHOOP, Eight Sleep and Oura have also been racing to open up their compatibility and advance their capabilities to meet the constantly evolving expectations of consumers.

And, as we cover in our 2022 Consumer Wellness Trends Report, this upward trend isn’t showing any sign of slowing. Read more

The wellness industry became a $4.9 trillion behemoth, set to reach $7 trillion by 2025

As the year came to a close, new research from the Global Wellness Institute revealed that the wellness market grew to a record $4.9 trillion in 2019, up from $4.3 trillion in 2017, before falling back to $4.4 trillion in the year of the pandemic.

The same research also predicted the industry will bounce back rapidly, driven by a major consumer “values reset” that will see a return to pre-pandemic levels of $5 trillion in 2021 and accelerate at an annual 10% growth rate to reach $7 trillion by 2025.

“This research update is crucial because 2020 is the watershed year that will forever divide history — and the trajectory of the wellness economy — into ‘before’ and ‘after’ COVID-19,” said Ophelia Yeung, GWI Senior Research Fellow. 

“When we analyse how different wellness markets performed in the last year, it’s natural to want to compare them and label winners and losers. But there is no question that wellness — as a concept, as a lifestyle priority, and consumer value — is a big winner from the pandemic.” Read More

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