The collapse of Jenny Craig’s US company is another extraordinary challenge for the global weight loss empire founded in Melbourne in 1983 by a dazzling woman of the same name.
Ms. Craig, who sold the company long ago, faced remarkable personal challenges as she made the company a household name in Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand.
The Australian government nearly silenced the company over a problem with ‘vitamin packs’ just days before launch, and for five years Ms Craig was largely unable to speak due to a rare medical condition.
Now Ms. Craig would no doubt watch with concern as the company announced on Thursday it would shut down its US operations after reportedly racking up $250 million in debt, in a move that will not affect its Australian operations.
Jenny Craig (above) co-founded her eponymous diet business in Melbourne with her husband, Sidney, in 1983
Ms Craig (pictured with her husband) revealed in 2019 that the company lost nearly $17,000 just days before it was due to launch after a vitamin mishap with the Australian Health Department
Mrs. Craig, an American, started her business with her husband, Sidney, with nine centers in Melbourne in the early 1980s; a franchise that grew to approximately 600 stores around the world.
The couple had decided to settle in Melbourne after signing a non-compete agreement as part of the sale of their former weight-loss company that banned them from the US diet market for two years.
Mrs. Craig explained that she and her husband invested everything in setting up Jenny Craig and that “failure just wasn’t an option.”
But a mistake about innovative ‘vitamin packs’ to be launched alongside the company’s ready meals led Jenny Craig to run afoul of the Australian government just days before the company launched.
Ms Craig explained that the vitamins contain selenium, a nutrient often lacking in Australian soil.
Jenny Craig started in 1983 with just nine centers in Melbourne, but has grown to some 600 stores around the world – including in the US, Canada and Australia (pictured, Mr and Mrs Craig)
The health department told the couple that the vitamins had to be returned to America or officials would “dump them in the ocean.”
“It would cost us $17,000 to ship the vitamins back to America. We thought, “Why spend the money to send them back?” so we said, ‘You know what, if you’re really that strong about it, throw them in the ocean,'” Ms. Craig said.
“We found out later that there was no reason why the selenium couldn’t stay in the pack, but all we wanted to do was get our centers open.
“When she called, it was Friday and we had our grand opening the following Monday.”
Despite the rocky start, Jenny Craig quickly grew into a household name with his easy frozen meals and support from slimmed-down Hollywood stars.
But the personal hardships didn’t continue until the mid-90s when Jenny Craig fans noticed that Ms. Craig herself disappeared from advertising.
The now 90-year-old reappeared on television five years later in 2001 on Larry King Live, where she told King that she had “gutted” the muscle of her jaw after shaking herself from a nap.
Jenny Craig quickly became a household name with his convenient frozen meals backed by slim Hollywood stars (pictured, Aussie comedy star Magda Szubanski who promoted Jenny Craig in 2009)
“I sat on the couch in my living room and fell asleep,” she said.
‘I woke up with a start, my lower jaw snapped shut over my upper teeth, I had to pry it down. It felt like two rubber bands had snapped on the side of my face.
“After about a week, my teeth would clench when I talked and my face would start to shake.”
Ms Craig said she went from specialist to specialist for three years trying to figure out what had happened to her as the effects of her injury worsened.
“I had stripped all the muscles in my face. I used my tongue to hold my jaw up, so I tried to talk and do that at the same time and my speech became very distorted,” she said.
“I went from doctor to doctor. I went to 18 doctors across the country.
“I could open and close (my mouth), but I had no control.”
She was eventually able to find a doctor who realized she had damaged her jaw muscles and was able to perform surgery to help, but it would take another two years of rehab to recover.
“(The doctor) did some facial manipulations and he could see it. He said, “You don’t have any muscle tone in your face at all,” she said
“He had to use dissolvable screws to attach them to my cheekbones and it was a major operation.”
Mrs Craig (pictured with her husband) disappeared from Jenny Craig adverts in the mid-90s after stripping ‘the muscle’ of her jaw, which left her unable to speak for five years
The couple sold Jenny Craig to Nestle in 2006, but continued as consultants for some time afterwards.
Just two years later, Mr. Craig passed away from cancer at the age of 76.
On Thursday, 40 years after the company was founded, US-based employees were told that Jenny Craig will close shop “due to an inability to secure additional financing” with the company believed to be $250 million in debt.
Jenny Craig will remain open in Australia and New Zealand and the company explains that the international branches operate as separate companies.
“You may have heard the news that Jenny Craig USA is planning to file for bankruptcy,” it reads.
While this is sad news for our colleagues in the US, the Jenny Craig operations here in Australia and New Zealand are acting independently.
“Here in Australia and New Zealand we are currently continuing to operate and support our customers.
“As always, our priority is to continue to provide the best possible service. We thank you for your continued patience and support during this time.”
Jenny Craig will close its US operations but will remain open to Australian and New Zealand customers (pictured, Married At First Sight star Jules Robinson’s Jenny Craig transformation)
Ms. Craig said she attributed much of her company’s early success to “hard work.”
“We took our entire fortune, every dime we had, and invested in Australia,” she said Medium.
“I can remember the woman in charge of nutrition — she looked at me and said, ‘What were you thinking?’ I’m sure there were a lot of people who didn’t want to take that risk, but we knew we would be successful.
“People would say ‘Gosh, you’re so lucky with your success’, and I’d say, ‘Isn’t it interesting that the harder I work, the luckier I get’.
“Anything you want to achieve in life, whether it’s in education, whether it’s building a business, it takes hard work.”