Nutrisystem Again, But Not Again

So a sort of perfect storm occurred, and I’m suddenly subscribed to a Nutrisystem meal plan.  It started when I received a small spot bonus at work, which I initially planned to use for a new cordless hedge trimmer at Lowes.  After that order was initially delayed, then delayed forever, I decided to look around to decide where to spend all that sweet moolah.

A couple of days later, I was shopping at the happiest place on earth where a perfect storm took place.  In front of me was the gift card display, and on a big sign it announced that the Nutrisystem $100 gift cards were on sale for $55 after instant rebate.  My brain started clicking.

Back in 2008 I had enrolled in Nutrisystem and had a lot of success using their meal plan to lose weight.  Say what you will about food-in-a-box diet plans, this one had worked for me.  After losing 30 pounds I  started running and was able to keep losing weight on a normal diet, and eventually got down to 195 (I had started at 265).  By then I had run a couple of marathons and several half-marathons, and was looking good, even if I couldn’t walk down the stairs in the mornings because of all the running.  Whatever. I digress.  Bottom line is that the meal plan worked for me.

Weight loss progression from November 2008 when I was 274 lbs, to April 2010 when I ran the Salt Lake City Marathon and weighed 195 lbs.

So here’s what I was thinking – with my cool spot bonus money combined with the Costco discounted gift cards, I could purchase a 28-day supply of Nutrisystem.  And that’s exactly what I did.

For anyone who has wondered, this is what 4 weeks (24 days) of Nutrisystem food looks like when it arrives

My 4 week update: I’ve lost about 20 pounds (starting weight 264.1 current weight 245.5)

There are several cautions that I want to raise:

  • Nutrisystem has a sneaky penalty for subscribers:  If you purchase a 28-day supply using their discounted subscription pricing, you effectively commit to receiving at least one more order from them, or face having a $125 penalty assessed for cancelling before the second order is processed.  There was no indication of this on the Costco site where I purchased from (you can check the Nutrisystem Terms and Conditions shown for the product here). I realized this as my order was being placed online… and that’s certainly not when you want to learn about a hidden cost.  I was able to mitigate the problem by going back to Costco and purchasing another month’s worth of gift cards.
  • Nutrisystem now advertises and sells what it calls a 28 day plan, but the reality is that you only receive meals for 24 days, not 28.  Why is this, you might ask? The answer is what they call a Flex Meal.  Here’s what they say: “While on Nutrisystem, you’ll get to enjoy flex meals and snacks – one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner and two snacks each week on your own.” That’s an inconvenient way to describe how they short your order for 4 days worth of food on that 28-day meal plan (and yes, they are truly shorting your order, and there is a term for it: shrinkflation. It’s the practice of reducing a product’s size while maintaining its price so that consumers unknowingly pay the same for less – see this BBC Article The Food You Buy Really is Shrinking).
  • Prices for Nutrisystem have gone way, way up and they deliver a lot less at the same time.  Because I was a recurring customer starting in 2008 I have access to the orders I placed then, and can compare them to what I’m purchasing now.  Here’s a comparison:
      Nov 2008: 4 weeks + 1 week free, male $277.99 (no discount)
      Nov 2011: 35 day program, male $259.99 (no discount)
      Aug 2013: 4 weeks + 1 week free, male $259.99 ($65 discount)
      Sep 2017: 4 weeks (technically 24 days), male $384.29 ($133.07 discount)
      Oct 2017: 4 weeks (technically 24 days), male $414.29 ($103.07 discount)
    That “discount” is a complete joke, because their prices have gone from roughly $7.94 per day for meals in 2008 (and only $7.43 per day in 2013), to $17.26 per day for meals in 2017… and that’s not considering what they consider their pre-discounted price.  That’s a 217% increase in cost.
  • Order processing is late; often later than you’d expect. My first recent order took 1 week to process.  My second recent order (keep in mind that it was a subscription/automatic order) was supposed to process 6 days ago. It bugs me just a little bit that a customer service agent told me it was waiting to be picked up by FedEx on Friday, but on the following Monday I receive confirmation that a tracking number was created (still no record of it in the system).  Did the agent lie? How would FedEx pick up an order that still had no shipping label created?  I now have a gap in the Nutrisystem diet because I’ve effectively run out of food from the first order.  Keep in mind that my prior orders in 2008, 2011 and 2013 always processed in one day.  According to their customer service, their official processing and shipping time is (now) 4-10 business days.
  • Customer Service is a soothe-sayer, and they aren’t great at placating.  That problem you’re contacting them about isn’t really a problem; it’s a feature of the program, or it’s their interpretation.  As an example, when I contacted them about the late second order I was told “With the way our auto-delivery system works, we weren’t scheduled to begin processing you(r) order until [order date].” Silly me.  I thought that with the order in their system for weeks, they could actually have planned to ship (or deliver) the order on the date indicated.
  • You have to call to cancel their Auto-Delivery program.  Even though you can order, edit and even delay your order online, the one thing you can’t do is cancel the order… which only makes sense if Nutrisystem plans to talk someone out of cancelling the service. According to the forum support topics How do I cancel my plan? and Can I customize, cancel or delay my auto-delivery order?, you MUST call to cancel the auto-delivery service. The best part? If you already paid and are due a refund, it can take up to 8 weeks to refund your money.

Once the second order finally ships, I’m placing the call to cancel any future auto-delivery with Nutrisystem (update: I’m now waiting to see whether an adjustment comes through from a comment/exchange about the two  orders with the Counseling Support team. This one has me stymied because it doesn’t make sense how the refund was calculated, but it’s to my benefit so I shouldn’t complain). Yes I’ve lost weight;  but the problems of cost/value, bad customer practices and poor customer service are enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth (and I’ll end with that pun).

Nov 5 update: Based on a Nutrisystem email invite to do so, I posted a review on consumeraffairs.com, which you can find here. Nutrisystem has responded, and we’re talking privately following the public exchange.  The product itself is great, however it’s the policies, pricing and t&c’s that I can’t wrap my head around. I truly don’t understand how the price can go up so significantly but see service levels drop so much at the same time, while the terms of placing an order have to be regarded carefully because commitments are required when none existed before. 

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