What is in this article?:
- Life Time Fitness Makes a Bold Move and Goes Natural
- Good Food Rules
- New Brands, New Opportunities
Times are changing at Life Time Fitness, and now only food, beverage and supplement products that meet the company’s Good Food Rules are sold by the company.
New Brands, New Opportunities
Naturally, the changes at Life Time Fitness are creating new distribution opportunities for natural and organic brands. Along with finding a spot on the shelf at Life Time’s cafés, brands such as Orgain and Boost are promoted through in-café signage that calls out why members would want to purchase these natural products over conventional alternatives. The signs also feature money-back guarantees—just in case a member is not satisfied. Buss says Life Time will often test a brand regionally before rolling it out to the 25 markets in which its clubs are located.
“We look for partners that are nimble and quick,” Buss says. “We try not to carry too much because we are not in the business of managing a bunch of inventory.”
Life Time’s Good Food Rules have also brought about a number of difficult conversations.
“It’s been tough,” Buss says. “We’ve shaken out a lot of different brands.”
One brand that was shaken out was sports supplement maker Abbott Laboratories’ EAS.
“I spent a whole day recently telling EAS that this is the end of our relationship because they don’t have products that meet our Good Food Rules and requirements,” Buss says. “I wasn’t there to tell them that they have terrible products—I know their products are scientifically tested and backed by incredible rigor. But we are pretty hardcore now about what we will carry, and we are supported by a groundswell in the marketplace.”
That is good news for the natural, organic brands that are able to jump on Life Time’s wellness coattails.
“My hope,” says Buss, “is that five years from now someone will be interviewing one of our new brands and say, ‘How did you get to scale?’ That company will then explain that getting into Life Time Fitness generated $10 million in annual revenue for them. That’s a story I would be happy to hear.”
As Naughton notes, Life Time’s new Good Food Rules are a natural extension of its positioning as The Healthy Way of Life Company. But listen to Life Time employees and read what the media has to say about the company, and it becomes clear that the changes occurring within this organization are about far more than just branding.
The hard decisions (who wants to fire lucrative, long-time vendors like Coca-Cola?) and commitments all stem from the vision of Life Time’s founder and CEO, Bahram Akradi.
“My boss, our CEO, has been the driver behind all of this,” Buss says.
Just because Akradi is the CEO, however, doesn’t mean that his vision has not been met without resistance. In fact, according to Buss, the Life Time executive who oversees all LifeCafé operations “butted heads” with Akradi for two years before agreeing to roll out the company’s Good Food Rules in earnest last year.
Akradi’s next challenge will be implementing his healthy product vision within the realm of the more than 142 athletic events Life Time now owns and operates. That will mean no longer having Gatorade or other makers of popular sports recovery drinks as sponsors of its events, including the ultra endurance races such as the Leadville Trail 100.
“We struggle with this,” Buss says. “There aren’t a lot of natural isotonic drinks right now, and the truth is that after a nine-hour bike race at elevation, you can’t just drink water to refuel your body.”
Whether it is Pepsi or Coca-Cola or a smaller beverage company, someone will come up with a workable natural isotonic alternative—and much of the impetus to do so will come from companies such as Life Time Fitness. Says Horvath: “Our new standards are putting a lot of pressure on our vendors to change—and to do so in ways that will make their products healthier.”
(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Nutrition Business Journal on Aug. 24, 2012.)
LifeCafé decor incorporates natural colors. Photo courtesy of Life Time Fitness.