Hunger Games: The Commercial And CX Implications of Weight-Loss Drugs

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Imagine that an activity you’ve always loved, like cooking or hiking, suddenly turns you off. Now picture nearly one in 10 people experiencing the same change. How could that alter our culture?

This is how appetite-suppressing drugs such as Ozempic and Mounjaro can work on their users, in part. The drugs, initially intended to treat diabetes, stimulate a hormone that controls when we feel full, can reduce cravings and therefore, overconsumption. But these GLP-1 drugs also can alter the way food tastes, Healthline reports, and trigger a chemical reaction that makes many delicious foods and beverages suddenly unappetizing.

The Guardian describes the effect as “A Clockwork Orange for junk food, an eating disorder in an injection.”

If the clockwork is correct, many observers predict these GLP-1 drugs could unleash upheaval for food makers and retailers. But the changes could extend beyond the food business – to apparel, beauty and even our feelings of community.

Weight-Loss Innovation Could Weigh Down Community

Still, by 2030, nearly 9% of the U.S. population, about 30 million people, could be using GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy, according to J.P. Morgan Research. That means 9% of the population could lose their natural desire to enjoy many of the foods and beverages they once indulged in – often with others.

As a Bon Appetit writer put it, in relating a story about an Ozempic-treated friend whose Thanksgiving was “ruined” because she had no appetite: “Having excised our innate, human desire to consume, though, we may start to long for it, especially as a way of connecting with others.”

Yikes! That sounds bleak, but we have reason not to fear this outcome. Food manufacturers and retailers are likely to bring us solutions in the form of GLP-1-compatible nutrition – and a other goods.

Think on it. Other major dieting trends that threatened food sales, such as Keto, vegan and Whole30, only fueled food innovations that nourished new category empires. A review of dairy alternatives provides ample evidence: Pricey options are derived from oats, almonds, coconut, rice, potatoes, quinoa and soy.

The Potential Category Effects Of Ozempic At Retail

Sure enough, food makers including Nestlé and General Mills are developing what the Wall Street Journal calls “companion” products to boost muscle mass and nutrition, as well as natural alternatives to the drugs. These new products could eventually sate our hunger for communal bread-breaking with people we care about, while managing weight.

There are other categories that could also be exploring innovative ways to meet how weight-loss drugs could shape our spending. Among the opportunities:

 

Filling holes in beauty: As actor Catherine Deneuve famously said: It’s either your fanny or your face. GLP-1 drugs apparently target both, creating a demand for beauty products and procedures that help fill out sunken faces and sagging butts. A piece in Forbes Health suggests those who suffer “Ozempic face” could benefit from facial microneedling and dermal fillers, such as Sculptra and Radiesse. Some of these same treatments, notably fillers and skin-tightening procedures, could help with “Wegovy butt,” Healthline reports. Meanwhile, some “thin-allusion” products could lose market share: social media searches for contouring face cosmetics had declined by 10.6%, year over year, Insider Intelligence reported in December.

Transitional wardrobe changes. Slimmed-down shoppers are more likely to take up exercise to tone their new bodies, and invest in gym memberships and equipment. One wellness company, Equinox, has launched a workout plan designed specifically for members on GLP-1 medications, People reported in January. If broad enough, the boost in physical activity and gym memberships will extend to an increased demand for performance wear. Retailers might also want to stock up on transitional clothing that consumers can wear during their weight loss paths, so they don’t have to invest a lot of money in outfits that suit just brief phases of their body changes.

Yuck-proof pours. Thanks to Dry January and the sober-curious movement, the beer, wine and spirits industry has a leg up on creating alcohol-free beverages for social gatherings. Wider GLP-1 use could stimulate more innovation in this category due to the ripple effect: Because drinking is a social activity, and the drugs’ users simply don’t want to drink anymore, those with them might decline drinks, as well. One report, citing the Washington Post, predicts widespread use of weight loss drugs could cost the industry $3.5 billion in alcohol sales. The trick for the industry will be providing alcohol-free alternatives that appeal to suppressed appetites, perhaps by incorporating needed nutrition. How about a non-alcoholic drink that packs a protein punch? Or a serving or two of fruits and veggies?

Make backgammon a FOMO activity. One reported side effect of appetite aversion is boredom, brought on by the lack of pleasure in dining out, having a few drinks and similar indulgences. One scientist told Wired (as cited in Healthline): “Once you’ve been on this for a year or two, life is so miserably boring that you can’t stand it any longer and you have to go back to your old life.” Those who begin to feel bored will want social substitutes beyond the gym and alcohol-free drinks. Makers and sellers of board games, puzzles and hobbies could do well by promoting activity groups on social media and sponsoring competitions.

But What About The Joy Of The Repast?

A lot of these category expansions address the results of consumption changes, but what about the psychological and emotional toll? A person’s relationship with food is integral. It shapes social gatherings, inspires conversations and lifts moods. The loss of that relationship hurts.

Retailers and food makers likely, or hopefully, know this. Drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro do not mark the end of champagne, roast turkey and cheesecake. By all means, retailers should pursue Ozempic-friendly products to feed consumer needs (and maintain wallet share), but the deprivation of enjoyment should be addressed, as well as the initial causes of the obesity epidemic. 

After all, a lot of people will likely quit the drugs and fall back into the arms of their beloved pastimes, because they miss their old lifestyles. Retailers should be waiting for them; not with bacon cheeseburgers, but with support.

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This article originally appeared in Forbes.

Jenn McMillen
Jenn McMillen is Founder and Chief Accelerant of Incendio, a firm specializing in customer-facing initiatives, whether it’s marketing or technology. She was the VP of Loyalty and CRM for GameStop & Michaels.

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