Don Shula Set To Pitch NutriSystem Diet Line

Diet company NutriSystem has ambitious new plans in the works as it gets ready for a post-holiday push. They include selling food at Wal-Mart and GNC, introducing kids' snacks, and launching a program for people over 65 using ex-Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula as pitchman.

Shula's upcoming NutriSystem endorsement follows the company's successful use of another Miami football star, Dan Marino. Marino was NutriSystem's first celebrity spokesman, brought on last year to lure more male members after he lost 22 pounds. Playing up the convenience of delivered ready-to-eat meals and an ad schedule on male-skewing channels like ESPN, NutriSystem grew its male membership significantly, from 13 percent in 2005 to a projected 30 percent by the end of this year.

The company will also start selling its pre-packaged meals in Wal-Mart and General Nutrition Center (GNC) stores. At the same time, NutriSystem will roll out 60 new food products.

The traditional NutriSystem program is a direct-to-member model based on providing pre-packaged, pre-portioned shelf-stable meals on a monthly basis, with food costing approximately $290 per month, or roughly $10 a day.



Meals planned for sale at Wal-Mart and GNC will be the same as those sent by UPS to members. To avoid losing direct-to-member sales, prices at retail are expected to be in the same range as food prices to members, according to Citigroup analyst Gregory Badishkanian.

The senior citizen program will be introduced at the end of the year. Unlike the typical weight-loss pitches based on appearance that are generally made by diet programs, these ads will focus on living a healthier and longer life, the analyst reports. Seniors now represent about 10 percent of NutriSystem members.

Since CEO Michael Hagan took the helm of the then-floundering company in 2002, revenue has gone from $28 million to $413 million, with aggressive customer service reps trained in how to talk a query into a NutriSystem convert. The company produces its own ads.

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