Applebee's International and Weight Watchers International have agreed to a five-year licensing agreement to develop and market a Weight Watchers-branded section on the menus of Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurants. The seven- to 10-item menu will offer appetizers, entrees and desserts and will include nutritional information in keeping with the weight loss company's 'Winning Points' designations for calories, fat and fiber.

The two companies, which were in talks for a year, will jointly develop the menu and marketing around 'great tasting and good-for-you' foods,' said John Cywinski, chief marketing officer for Applebee's. The companies plan to launch items in test markets later this year with a national roll out by the second half of 2004.

Mr. Cywinski said Applebee's had a dedicated low-fat menu in the 1990s, which was discontinued in 2000. 'Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was popular for consumers to say in research that they had an interest in healthier fare but what they'd do ... would be very different and it didn't often translate into business results,' said Mr. Cywinski. 'We feel we're in a different era ... as people are more weight conscious and interested in health.'
The companies plan to back the menu with a full range of marketing support that is still to be developed and tested and the budget is pending the outcome of the tests. '[Marketing] will be comprehensive, and at some point next year it will be national,' Mr. Cywinski said.