Nutrisystem's (NTRI) CEO Dawn Zier on Q4 2016 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Nutrisystem Inc (NTRI)

Nutrisystem Inc (NASDAQ:NTRI)

Q4 2016 Earnings Conference Call

February 27, 2017 05:00 PM ET

Executives

John Mills - Managing Partner at ICR

Dawn Zier - President and CEO

Mike Monahan - CFO

Keira Krausz - Chief Marketing Officer

Analysts

Frank Camma - Sidoti & Company

Mitch Pinheiro - Wunderlich Securities

Linda Bolton-Weiser - B. Riley

Alex Fuhrman - Craig-Hallum Capital Group

Matthew Gall - Barrington

Chris Krueger - Lake Street Capital Markets

Mitch Pinheiro - Wunderlich Securities

Operator

Greetings, and welcome to the Nutrisystem Fourth Quarter and Full-Year 2016 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. An interactive question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Mr. John Mills of ICR. Thank you. You may begin.

John Mills

Thanks, Matt. Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us to discuss Nutrisystem’s fourth quarter and full-year 2016 financial results. Today Dawn Zier, President and Chief Executive Officer, will provide an overview of the business and insight into the 2017 diet season. Mike Monahan, Chief Financial Officer, will review the fourth quarter results and provide first quarter and full-year 2017 financial guidance. And Keira Krausz, Chief Marketing Officer, will review and provide insight into the company’s marketing initiatives. We will then open up the lines to take your questions. Please note, on today’s call we would appreciate participants to limit themselves to two questions and rejoin the queue for any follow-up questions.

Before we begin, I would like to remind everyone that during this conference call, Nutrisystem management will make certain forward-looking statements about its outlook for 2017 and beyond that involve risk and uncertainties. Forward-looking statements are generally preceded by words such as believe, plan, intend, expect, anticipate, or similar expressions. Forward-looking statements are protected by the Safe Harbor contained in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Because forward-looking statements relate to the future, they are subject to inherent uncertainties, risk, and changes in circumstance that are difficult to predict, and many of which are outside of the company’s control.

Factors that could cause actual results to differ from expectations include, but are not limited to, those factors set forth in Nutrisystem’s filings with the SEC. Nutrisystem is making these statements as of February 27, 2017, and assumes no obligation to publicly update or revise any of the forward-looking statements made during this call. In addition to the GAAP results, Nutrisystem will provide certain non-GAAP financial measures on this conference call. Nutrisystem’s earnings press release for the fourth quarter and full-year 2016 can be found under the News Release link on the Investor Relations page of the company’s website at nutrisystem.com. The tables attached to the earnings release include reconciliations of the non-GAAP financial measures to the most direct comparable GAAP financial measures.

And with that, I will turn the call over to Dawn Zier.

Dawn Zier

Thank you, John, and thanks everyone who has joined. Today I'm pleased to report our third consecutive year of double digit revenue growth at 18%. We were also able to grow our earnings per share by 34% as our business continued to scale and we maintained a disciplined approach to cost management. These result exceeded our full-year revenue and earnings per share expectations. Based on our performance of the first two months of the diet season, I’m pleased to share that we are on trajectory to deliver our fourth consecutive year of double digit revenue growth in 2017 led by the continuing strength of our core brand NutriSystem. We focus on several strategic areas in 2016 that just set up for success in 2017 and beyond. Let's start with product innovation. Turbo 10 resonated well with consumers in 2016 as did Uniquely Yours and our other flexible meal option. Our science based clinically supportive programs appeal to a broad set of consumers looking to safely and effectively lose weight. Lean 13 which we launched for diet season 2017 appears to be another home run resonating with new and existing customers.

Next, we had tremendous success this past year growing our shakes and a-la-carte sale. Our shakes are an important component of our program and are also available as an ala carte option. With now many customers adding ala carte products to their program and migrating to more flexible options as they continue on their weight loss journey. We expect continued growth of these products offerings throughout 2017. Third, NutriSystem continues to attract new customers and win back former ones. Our advertising messages resonate and we set a high bar for efficient and successful marketing campaigns in 2016 as our media team creatively capitalized on TV viewership space, while simultaneously testing across many new digital channels. We’re seeing continued breakthroughs in 2017. Keira will go into greater details in her remark. Fourth, new customer growth achieved over the past three years feeds 2017 reactivation pool. Our pools continued to grow; we are offering more options and as a result have seen revenues increase due to both volume and rate. Reacs, as we refer to them, are very profitable since the majority of marketing costs are assigned to new customers.

Turning to retail. We remain stable at Wal-Mart and made continued progress in expanding into the grocery channel. We anticipate modest growth for retail in 2017 and although retail remain a small part of our total business, we believe it provides a halo effect to our direct business and it's an attractive opportunity for us as an alternative sales channel to some products. And last but certainly not least the South Beach Diet. It's hard to believe that we just acquired the brand a little over a year ago, just the brand, and have taken it from concept development to product actualization. I'm happy to report that in January we showed strong consumer interest in the South Beach Diet. We plan to build and capitalize on this brand equity as we fine tune key levers that drive length of stay such as pricing and product configuration. As with any new product launch, optimization continued iteration is expected and we're deploying that same disciplined and methodical approach that we use our NutriSystem to South Beach. Our early read is that we expect the South Beach Diet to drive 20 to 25 million in revenue for 2017 positioning the brand for meaningful growth in 2018 and beyond as we build out customer pools and increased marketing spend.

In short, heading into 2017, we believe our core NutriSystem brand is stronger than ever and it’s not one thing that is working right, it’s many things. We expect our direct to consumer business to continue to be the major driver of growth in 2017. Furthermore as I just mentioned, the steps we took to build on our multi-brand strategy have us well positioned for addictive growth through the South Beach Diet brand and more flexible options including ala carte coupled with state of the art marketing engagement tool will continue to extend our relationship with the customer and deliver additional lifetime value.

I will now turn the call over to Mike who will walk through our 2016 financial results and discuss our first quarter and full-year 2017 guidance. After that Keira will add more color to the success we’re seeing this diet season and at South Beach.

Mike Monahan

Thanks Dawn, and good afternoon everyone. 2016 finished strong, revenue for the full-year 2016 increased nearly 18% to 545.5 million compared to 462.6 million last year driven by new customer growth, improved reactivation and continued improvements of the customer experience in our economic. Adjusted EBITDA and earnings per share increased 31% and 34% year over year for the full year respectively. Gross margin for the year increased 140 basis points to 52.9%. Marketing spend increased 23% further expanding our customer reach profitably. And marketing as a percentage of revenue was 27.9%. Revenue in the fourth quarter was especially strong and came in at 108.9 million, up nearly 21% year over year. We continued to benefit from increased viewership surrounding the presidential election. Adjusted EBITDA in the fourth quarter was 18.7 million with earnings per share of $0.29 representing year-over-year increases of 54% and 123% respectively. We invested 14.8 million of capital expenditures into the business during 2016 and finished the year with 33 million of cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments on hand.

During 2016, we returned 21 million of cash to shareholders through our dividend. Driven by the continued success of NutriSystem brand, we are projecting 2017 to deliver our fourth year of double-digit revenue growth. For the full-year of 2017 we are projecting revenue to be in the range of 630 to 650 million, adjusted EBITDA of 95.8 to 100.3 million and consolidated earnings per share of $1.55 to $1.65. Capital expenditures are projected to be 12 to 14 million for the full year. For the first quarter of 2017 we're projecting revenue to be in the range of 202 to 207 million, adjusted EBITDA in the range of 11.6 to 13.6 million and earnings per share of $0.14 to $0.19. We expect of course the first quarter of 2017 to be particularly strong due to favorable television viewership and timing of retail shipments. The revenue contribution for quarter as a percentage of the full year consolidated revenue should follow a similar cadence to 2016. Due to the success of Lean 13, our model assumes incremental marketing spend in the second quarter of 2017 year over year. This spent helps to drive full year profit but impacts the cadence of EPS contribution in the year pushing some of the Q2 EPS contribution into the second half of the year.

As Dawn mentioned we’re pleased with the launch of the South Beach Diet. For 2017, we expect the brand to drive roughly 20 to 25 million. We’re excited that the customer response to our advertisements has been favorable demonstrating that demand for the brand and product is there. Through customer feedback we’ve recently learned that customers are experiencing some storage issues due to the freezer space constraints which is leading to delays in second shipments and some early cancellation. Unlike NutriSystem, our South Beach Diet currently has very few grab and go or non-frozen items available. To resolve this, the product development team is focused on introducing more grab and go offerings in the upcoming month. As a result, 2017 guidance factors in modest solution for the brand primarily in the first half of the year. We believe the South Beach Diet is resonating with customers and we are confident in its future growth. We are continuing to deploy marketing dollars to build brand awareness and the customer database, this will position the brand for growth and profitability in 2018. With each of our brand’s we are focused on and investing behind four core principals to support long-term growth. One, attract more customers, revenue from customers in their initial diet cycle were up over 18% year-over-year in 2016 primarily driven by increased customer starts, improved pricing and increases in upsell and ala carte sales. Our marketing campaigns and product improvements have been effective.

For the full-year 2017 we are projecting continued increases in new customer revenues due to increased product demand and our ability to profitability deploy marketing dollars to reach new consumers. Reactivation revenue continues to strengthen as a result of increased customer count and improved reactivation yield. We delivered nearly 33 million and 142 million of reactivation revenue in the fourth quarter and full-year 2016 respectively. For the full year this represents approximately 26% of consolidated revenue and 20% growth year-over-year. We expect reactivation revenue to continue to be doubled to be double digit growth driver in 2017. Two, improve the overall satisfaction and economic contribution of each customer. The average customer profit contribution continues to expand as we introduce new product offerings and manage our cost of goods. Revenue per customer has improved due to pricing and product enhancement. This increase was also complemented by meaningful increases in upsell rates. Gross margins on an annual basis are improving due to increases in average selling price and effective management of food and distribution costs. For the full-year 2016 gross margins increased year-over-year by 140 basis points to 52.9%. 2017 guidance assumes additional improvement in gross margins as we continue to grow revenue per customer and manage cost of goods.

Three, extend our marketing reach. Marketing expense for the fourth quarter of 2016 was 23.9 million or 22% of revenue compared to 20.3 million for the fourth quarter of 2015. Our improved customer economics continue to enable us to deploy additional marketing dollars to attract more consumers. For fiscal year 2017, our Lean 3 campaign is strong. We are projecting increased media spend in both online and offline channels as we continue to profitably expand our customer reach. In 2017, year-over-year revenue growth is projected to be largest in the first quarter as we continue to see increased viewership as a result of the presidential inauguration. We are expecting viewership to return to more normal levels for the remainder of the year. Marketing as a percentage of revenue is expected to increase year-over-year due to two drivers. One media investments to support the South Beach Diet and two, improve lifetime value of NutriSystem customers enabling us to reinvest dollars to expand our media reach while still improving our operating margins. Retail continues to be an important channel for us. In addition to product sales, we believe having a presence in both direct to consumer and retail provides improved brand awareness. The retail channel is expected to grow in 2017 and reach approximately 35 million in revenue for the full year.

Four, invest in the business to support future growth. In early Q2 2017 we will be opening our fourth frozen warehouse to support increased volumes and reduce shipping time to the end consumer. We also continue to invest in our digital platform making improvements to our websites and enhancements to our tracking tools and content site. Finally, we are focused on the South Beach Diet brand and positioning it for top and bottom line growth into 2018 and beyond. During 2016, we returned 21 million of cash to shareholders through our dividend which has been consistently in place since mid-2008. Our business model remains capital efficient enabling us to both return capital to the shareholders and invest in strategic growth initiatives to drive shareholder value. The board of directors has declared a dividend of $0.175 per share payable March 20, 2017 to stockholders of record as of March 9, 2017.

I'll now turn the call over to Keira.

Keira Krausz

Thanks Mike, 2017 if off and running. We had an exciting January with the healthy rise in customer starts, continued growth in the popularity of our Uniquely Yours program and an increase in customer engagement via our digitally delivered content and apps which in turn enabled increases in incremental sales to existing customers. We expect to grow revenues from new customers by double digits in the first quarter. In addition, our ramp up of the South Beach Diet is going well and we are pleased to have two well known differentiated brands in the weight loss space. The keys to our continued success are many, but can be grouped into two main themes. First, we embrace trends in the larger consumer environment and adjust our offerings accordingly to serve consumers better in order to help more of them lose weight and improve their health in ways that are simple, effective and easy to follow. Let me share some observations about our world and then mention quickly how we seek to meet consumer needs.

The world is increasingly complex. We keep things simple to make it easier for people to take control. People want healthier food options at an affordable price, NutriSystem and South Beach food has no artificial colors, sweeteners or flavors; most of our South Beach food is gluten and our frozen food is as fresh as home delivery gets at a price accessible for millions. There is no such thing as a one size fits all loss approach. We now have two distinct approaches NutriSystem which allows people to eat favorite foods made healthy and the South Beach Diet which makes following to low sugar, low carb, high protein light snack. Everyone uses their mobile devices 24/7, we've invested to make our sites responsive, are optimizing for every device and have apps that support our customers and keep them connective, expect everything on demand, our counseling group is the most accessible in the industry, customers can email, chat online or call us seven days a week, 17 hours per day. Buying online and home delivery are now the norm. So we have a simple shopping experience and a supply chain ready to pick and pack each customized order of hundreds of items and deliver quickly. A second theme being that underlies our success in our team. We fight hard for every next inch of progress, employ rigorous analytics on our never ending quest to uncover problem, bring forward solutions, identify the next big opportunity and better serve our customers.

With those overarching themes in mind, we've had some specific breakthroughs that are making this diet season a success. Our Lean 13 program with clinically support results is quite strong and is attracting more new customers and reactivations alike. We've been able to expand our television reach. We’re on more stations, more network, more shows in more dayparts. We've expanded our digital reach. We're able to use digital channels like display, social media, email and content marketing to introduce ourselves to new consumers. Our television channel is healthy and we're growing our digital channels so that we meet consumers wherever they are. Our Uniquely Yours program which allows customers to select from over 150 frozen grab and go items continues to grow. Last January, we shared that just over 50% of our customers choose Uniquely Yours. Now that percentage has jumped to 60% and we expect that it will continue to climb. We're happy that our freshest nutritious great tasting frozen food has become such a customer favorite. Our add-ons like ala carte items and shakes which we sell primarily to existing customers also continue to expand. More people are adding them to their orders and average spend per annum order is increasing.

Engagement with our digitally delivered content and apps is way up this year. NuMi users are up to 50% in January and we had over 26 million page views in one month. We had over a 1.5 page views on the [indiscernible] content site. This level of engagement demonstrates how much are customers look to us for simple credible advice. We are building what we hope are strong and lasting relationships. These high used platforms are also on their way to generating significant revenue as we have more ways of communicating with our customers throughout their weight loss journeys which means more opportunities to offer appropriate products. In addition to having a great start to 2017 for NutriSystem’s Lean 13 campaigns, we are equally excited to have launched the South Beach Diet. The program’s nutritional approach with the focus on lean protein, healthy flats and low sugar with groundbreaking when Dr. Agatston first introduced it and we believe it is even more relevant and on trend today. We had a solid start to acquisition in January and spend in order to build brand awareness and start testing expansion opportunities. Going forward we’ll be disciplined and methodical about balancing our desire to grow reach with a need to achieve a profitable acquisition costs for customers.

Now that we have the basic South Beach Diet customer acquisition engine up and running, we will employ the same quick and highly iterated approach to maximizing revenue per customer as we have used with NutriSystem. As a reminder it’s this approach that allowed us to grow the percentage of customers taking NutriSystem’s highest price program option from about 30% to over 60% over the past few years. It also led to success of price increases on our basic, core and Uniquely Yours program without lowering demand and motivated NutriSystem customers to add ala carte and shakes to their program. Frankly, maximizing our RPC and customer lifetime value is where our team excels. We hypothesize that having two strong brands in the market will allow us to expand more quickly and so far we are encouraged by our ability to attract new non-NutriSystem customers with South Beach. Perhaps because of the differentiation in die tapproaches, food portfolios and branding the vast majority of South Beach customers are not on the NutriSystem database and the overlap in new leads is low. This is a good sign that our multimedia strategy should generate long-term incremental revenue and EBITDA.

The addressable market segment is large and growing and the South Beach Diet should allow us to get a larger portion of the $10 billion to $15 billion opportunity. We believe every woman and every man has the power. The power to dream of improving one's body and health, the power to take control. Our job is to help by developing simple easy to follow effective programs and to communicate with customers anywhere they are anytime they need us. We look forward to the rest of 2017 in which NutriSystem and the South Beach Diet, two great weight loss brands expand side by side.

Now I’ll turn the call back over to Dawn for some closing remarks.

Dawn Zier

Thanks Keira and to everyone on the call today for your interest in NutriSystem. As we head into 2017 we believe the NutriSystem brand is as strong as ever and our multi-brand strategy is taking hold. Based on our diet season performance during the past two months, we're well on our way to achieving our fourth consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth fueled by our continued focus on our key initiatives, proven business model and analytical rigor that drives continuous improvement. As we look to the future we are operating from a position of strength having not one but two powerhouse brands to help us extend our reach to new customers and capture more of the large addressable weight loss market. Our priorities are to, one, continue to grow the NutriSystem brand in a financial meaningful way. Two, continue to build our multiband strategy making us well positioned to achieve 20 to 25 million on revenues from the South Beach Diet in 2017 positioning the brand for meaningful growth in 2018 and beyond; and three, run a very disciplined business that is focused on topline growth through price and marketing innovation while not taking our eyes off cost. I’m really proud of all that the NutriSystem team has been able to accomplish. The engagement across every level of the organization and the private eye employees take in helping people become healthier versions as themselves are extraordinary. The strategy and vision that the leadership team has said, outlines the path forward but it's the exceptional companywide execution that runs gold into results. So big thank you to the entire NutriSystem team for 2016 that delivered results beyond our expectations and for a great start to 2017.

With that I’d like to open up the lines for questions. Operator?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from Frank Camma from Sidoti & Company. Please go ahead.

Frank Camma

Just with respect to Mike’s comments on the cadence of the guidance, because obviously that kind of sticks out, I mean so it's a nice jump in Q1 and granted I mean I understand you don't want to be too aggressive here and also you did get obviously the bump from the inauguration. But is there any reason to believe that the average customer for example wouldn’t be as sticky later in the year. I mean I know you get a lot of visibility in Q1 but I wonder if you can just talk about that a little bit.

Mike Monahan

Frank, it’s Mike. As I mentioned on the call we expect the quarterly revenue as a percent of annual revenue to be reasonably similar to last year. On a year over year basis there's two reasons why the growth is a bit heavier in the front half of the year. First is timing of retailing QVC revenues, in 2017 the revenues from retail and QVC are a little bit more front loaded due to timing and shipments in the shows. And the second really has to do with the fourth quarter of 2016 similar to new customer acquisitions and reactivation revenue we're able to deploy a higher percentage of media dollars to attract customers in that quarter due to increased viewership as a result of the presidential election. So for this year in 2017 we modeled in more seasonal growth.

Frank Camma

I’ll go back to my model. I was just looking as you're coming up against pretty difficult comp in Q1 and obviously you’re going up against that even higher, so that was unusual. My other question was related to the gross margins since you talked about the expansion. Is there any reason to believe that the South Beach Diet, do you get a similar margin profile on that product or is it lower in the beginning since your scaling up? And that’s all I have.

Mike Monahan

So we're still early on with the South Beach Diet, but we've modeled gross margins to be a little bit less than NutriSystem for the year but we continue to adjust the program and expect them to rise over the long term. But for 2017 the South Beach Diet isn't having a material impact on our consolidated gross margin.

Operator

Our next question comes from Mitch Pinheiro of Wunderlich Securities. Please go ahead.

Mitch Pinheiro

Yeah. Hey, good afternoon. That was a heck of a quarter and even probably better guidance, which I want to ask about. So when I try to sort of back in to new customer revenue growth for 2017. And if I take the bottom end of your guidance range and subtract the 35 million of reactivation revenue and call it, 25 five million of South Beach, I get to a number that somewhere, it looks like new customer revenue growth -- somewhere in the mid -- maybe mid to high teens. Is that about right?

Mike Monahan

Yes. And new customer revenue and reactivation revenue are kind of within the guidance ranges that we gave. So you're not far off. That's in the general direction of where it should be.

Mitch Pinheiro

And that feels like -- I mean so that's a continuation against, I think Mike you said 18% new customer revenue growth for 2016.

Mike Monahan

A little more than 18%. Correct.

Mitch Pinheiro

A little more than 18%. So that's also strong growth. I mean how do you see the components. Is it like an equal parts new customers, average pricing like the mix and want to stay, I mean how do we look at the components of that generally?

Mike Monahan

Yeah. So -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

Mitch Pinheiro

Well, generally speaking. I mean I know you don't get out exact, but just need to understand if it's weighed to more average pricing or mix or how do you look at it?

Mike Monahan

And so a large portion of our growth factored into the guidance comes from overall customers, the combination of new customers and reactivated customers that are driving it. We’re also getting a good percentage from an increase in upsell rates. So these are things like our shakes and a-la-carte items that have been improving. And the next piece of it is the revenues we’re collecting from the South Beach Diet. So those three things are modeled into 2017 growth. We are getting a small benefit from pricing and length of stay, but those are a little bit less of the drivers we've factored into the guidance for 2017.

Mitch Pinheiro

And just follow-up on that, on like -- you talk about upsell, I mean how significant is the upsell component of the new customer revenue growth?

Mike Monahan

So we don't get the exact dollars for it, but where we're seeing an upsell is we’re able -- for new customers coming in, we’re able to sell about a third of those new customers, some sort of an upsell on their initial order and then we're also able to keep them a little bit more sticky after they're done with the program by selling them a-la-carte items in more of a transition sense.

Mitch Pinheiro

Okay. And then just so second question just around South Beach is when you look at just your initial feedback, the initial economics that you're getting, is there any material difference in the way South Beach is behaving on those metrics compared to Nutrisystem, core Nutrisystem. Is there anything fundamentally different that you've learned that is, that changes the way your longer term look at South Beach?

Mike Monahan

Initially, I can speak to initially what we’re seeing. So we launched South Beach as we said in the script, we launched the South Beach Diet with primarily frozen offerings. So after watching customer behavior, we're seeing slightly higher delay rates and second order cancellation due to storage. So people receive the product and they -- it's a little bit more difficult to Nutrisystem to set it in your freezer space. So this is the one issue that is impacting length of stay in the near term for South Beach that makes it different than Nutrisystem. But what we're working on right now and the product development team is going to be launching in the upcoming months are more Grab `n Go items. So these are things that you can put in your pantry that don't take up freezer space where it would look a little bit more like the product configuration Nutrisystem and we expect that to address the length of stay and have it come up closer to where Nutrisystem is.

Operator

Our next question comes from Linda Bolton-Weiser from B. Riley. Please go ahead.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Hi. Congratulations on the strong growth. So when you look at the sales growth projections for 2017, it looks like it's about 16% to 19% sales growth, but then if you add back the $0.14 of investment in 2016 and the $0.03 from the [indiscernible], I mean really the EPS growth is like 14% to 21% is what I calculated. So it's kind of in line-ish with the top line growth. So am I thinking of that the right way? So I mean on a base level business, you're not really getting really a lot of margin expansion or am I thinking of that the right way for 2017?

Mike Monahan

Well if you're looking on an adjusted basis, I would say just looking at the revenue and taking out the South Beach revenue component that we've talked about because that’s not really contributing in year one to the bottom line. That's going to be more of a long term into 2018 contributor. So if you look at the growth there, you're going to notice you should see that there is scale in the business where on an adjusted basis, the EPS is growing at a faster pace than the top line revenue.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Right. I got you. So is South Beach like around break even in 2017 or is it actually a little bit loss making on the operating profit?

Mike Monahan

So we mentioned that there would be some dilution this year, primarily in the first half of the year for South Beach as we build the database.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Okay. And then so I know you're probably still testing and whatnot, but I guess one of the things I always understood was the frozen food leads to higher customer satisfaction and longer lengths of stay. So I'm wondering if you [indiscernible] into the South Beach, do you think they’re going to have a compromise on the satisfaction or length of stay that you might otherwise achieve?

Dawn Zier

No. This is Dawn. No, we don't actually -- as Mike had said, the issue that we’re having right now is the freezer space issue where they can’t fit all the frozen into the freezer and what we know from feedback from the customer is that it depends on what meal occasion you're talking about. So for breakfast and lunch, people do like to have some ready to go actions and for dinner, it's more the frozen. So we're looking for -- we're going to get some more of a mix where people can do Grab `n Go. We think it will be -- and even as we about Uniquely Yours, which is our premium option, remember that's not all frozen, it does have a longer length of stay, but that is a mix of frozen and ready to go item.

So mirroring that, South Beach was more frozen than Uniquely Yours and we're just trying to get the right configuration so people don’t have too much food in their freezer and feel a little overwhelmed. So again it's something that we do very well that iterate and learn and it's just kind of what we do, why we've driven the business to the level that it is and we’ll continue to get to. So we're very comfortable in the iterations that we're making around the ready to go and frozen mix for South Beach.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Great. That's helpful. And then for, can you just give us maybe the dollar figures for revenue for QVC and retail sales in the fourth quarter.

Mike Monahan

Sure. So for Q4 2016, retail revenue was about 8.7 million, QVC was 875,000. I’m sorry, were they the two that you asked for.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Yes.

Mike Monahan

Yeah.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

And then in terms of the direct channel revenue in 2016, is there any way to be able to tell us, is the vast majority still meal plan sales or is there a significant or increasing percentage that sakes an a-la-carte item. Is there any way to break that out?

Mike Monahan

We haven't broken it out, but we were able to increase our upsell rates in 2016. So shakes and a-la-carte items were a driver of some of our revenue growth throughout the year.

Dawn Zier

But program orders were also up significantly year-over-year. So everything is growing.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Right. I got you. And just one more, can I ask about in the first quarter, I think you mentioned some of the percentage strength in the sales growth is due to the timing of retail. So is that because you actually did so well in the diet season, you just have to ship more into the channel or do you actually have more retailers that signed up for the diet season and is that the reason for that?

Mike Monahan

So we do have basically where retail is going to breakdown is if you look at 2016, about 50% of the sales were in the first half of the year versus the second half of the year. If you look at the way we've modeled and expect 2017 to come out, closer to 60% of the sales are in the first half of the year from what we've projected and that's primarily due to the just timing of shipments where we’re expecting specifically into Wal-Mart is one reason where we just expect a little bit more in Q2 than we did in Q3 last year. And then we've also entered into a number of different grocers this year and we're seeing some sales in the front half of the year from that.

Linda Bolton-Weiser

Okay. And just one final one if I could on South Beach also. So again is the first quarter strength ,I mean is that South Beach that you had such strong initial diet season orders and that will taper off as some orders are cancelled and don't get renewed. I mean again the strength in the first quarter, is it somewhat South Beach or is it just more, just the underlying Nutrisystem business?

Dawn Zier

It’s the underlying Nutrisystem business. I mean, like we said, we’re building up South Beach and we’re so very pleased with the results for South Beach, but South Beach really the meaningful growth is going to happen in 2018. We expect to get 20 million to 25 million this year, which we're pleased with it, but really the performance for 2017 is because of the strength of the core brand and then of course South Beach provides some additives, but it's all -- it's mostly the strength of the core, which actually we're very pleased with.

Operator

Our next question is from Alex Fuhrman from Craig-Hallum Capital Group. Please go ahead.

Alex Fuhrman

Great. Thank you very much for taking my questions and I'll certainly add my congratulations on a truly phenomenal start to the year in 2017. I was hoping to ask about the core Nutrisystem brand. Obviously, it sounds like it is getting off to a great start and certainly ended 2016 on a great start and I am wondering if you could just kind of give us a, generally speaking, how that growth is really taking down between new customers and more customers walking themselves up to the Uniquely Yours versus increase paid length of stay. I think I remember in the past, over the past couple of years, it sounds like all three of those components, pricing, customers and length of stay have all been kind of working in concert. Wondering if there's any one of those things that's driving the strength in Q1 and 2017 or if it really continues to be fairly broad based across those things?

Mike Monahan

So if you look at 2016, the growth was split between customer growth, pricing of programs and that includes kind of product mix, we saw shift that Keira mentioned where we were able to move customers to purchase the more premium products, which is helping with our average selling price and revenue per customer and then the increase in upsell rate that we saw in 2016 and the largest piece of it in 2016 was the customer growth, but between those three that drove most of the growth that we saw. If you look to 2017, our guidance factors in more growth on the customer side where we're seeing customers, both new customers come to the brand as well as former customers come back to the brand. And we're also seeing growth from the upsell. There is a little bit less from pricing that we factored into our guidance for this year.

Alex Fuhrman

That's helpful. Thanks Mike. And then if I could just ask one more. It certainly seems like every time I turn on the TV, there's a Nutrisystem for men commercial specifically. Wondering how the men's business has been growing relative to the women's and then how should we think about the profitability of a new customer ad for men versus for women. I mean obviously it's a slightly higher price for men with the more food involved. I mean, do they tend to stay on the program as long as women, is that a similar gross margin, just kind of wondering how we should think about the difference of the two there?

Keira Krausz

Hi. It’s Keira. Good questions. So yes, the men’s business is doing nicely. But both the women’s or the business overall and the men’s business is doing well. So it's not at the expense of the general business and we’re not seeing a huge shift to men’s. Yes, men do have a slightly longer length of stay and so I wouldn't say that there's a dramatic shift to the business because of the success of what you're seeing on TV, but we're happy with the performance of all the things that are on TV. And the way that we basically manage is we’re watching every day how the men’s and the general advertisements do and we’re shifting a redo, the mix from one to the other, depending on performance.

Alex Fuhrman

Great. That's helpful, Keira. And then if I could just ask one more question. Certainly, it sounds like you guys had a tremendous benefit last year and up through the inauguration from some of the high viewership on a lot of the networks that you're advertising on. What does your advertising look like then for the rest of the year, I mean can you replicate a lot of that viewership just with more cheaper time slots or is that in some regard just kind of a one-time boost from TV viewership that might not be able to be replicated?

Keira Krausz

Well, yeah, definitely, we’re benefited from some interesting viewership in November and in January. There's no doubt. The good thing about the business is that we're constantly shifting. I think the only constant in our life in media is that rates and viewership is constantly fluctuating. So we're almost always shifting from one channel to another channel and we have a lot of levers across both the acquisition business and the rest of the business that we can pull to building on some strong.

Operator

Our next question is from Matthew Gall from Barrington. Please go ahead.

Matthew Gall

Good evening. Thanks for taking my questions and again another congratulations on the quarter and the outlook moving forward. One thing that you had mentioned, I’m sure we all appreciate the incremental contribution from South Beach Diet on the expectation for this year. But as we look at two initiatives that were implemented over the past year, you had the TurboShakes as part of the core offering as well as Shake360 and just how do you think about the incremental from the shake business as an opportunity from what you had previously explained and is it maybe a mix of what you consider Shake360 and part of the inherent growth you’re seeing in the core business. I don’t say there was obviously there was upsell that you’ve been converting customers within as more than just the shake product, but where the shake kind of fit into the overall mix?

Dawn Zier

Hi, Matt. It’s Dawn. We’re quite excited about the growth of our shakes, of our overall shake products. As we’ve talked about TurboShakes we’ve had a lot of people take shakes on Nutrisystem ebb into their shipments and then use them even when they’re off program. And we expect South Beach have some shakes in it as well. As far as Shake360, what we’ve decided to do is we believe the biggest opportunity is on Nutrisystem and South Beach as our two brands, bigger opportunities, but again, shakes and all aspects of shakes continue to be a growing part of our business.

Matthew Gall

Okay. That’s helpful. And then maybe getting more towards the marketing spend that you guys have, looking at the growth in the, the estimate marketing spend was up a little over 20% for the year and 16 and you’re seeing some other operational discipline that you’re able to kind of spend a little bit more. As we kind of look forward, should it be growing at a very similar foot, now that you’ve got a second brand that you’re, with South Beach Diet as well as additional medial channels, directionally where that marketing spend [indiscernible]?

Mike Monahan

So we’re reinvesting in the marketing line and expect it to be higher this year, really for two key reasons. One, it's the media investment to support the South Beach Diet as you mentioned and then the second is the improved lifetime value generating future reactivation revenue streams. But from a modeling -- for your model going forward, I would factor in an increase to marketing as a percentage of revenue and we're able to do that while at the same time growing our operating margin.

Matthew Gall

Okay. And then is there anything different, I know this had come up in the past with the election and everything, any different in the media spend environment, Keira, you’ve had more focus on building out your teams, but you said you look at that, any differences in the marketing and spend environment there?

Keira Krausz

Yeah. I mean we definitely are benefiting from being on more stations, more networks, more shows and more dayparts. So those are levers that we can pull throughout the year. And then also moving into digital, first touch [indiscernible] like the social, Facebook non-brand search and display and content marketing. So we're starting to see some real life in those channels.

Operator

Our next question is from Chris Krueger from Lake Street Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Chris Krueger

Good afternoon and wonderful quarter. Just kind of one topic of, we’re in an office environment here where we have CNBC on our TV all the time and every time I walk out the door or my office it’s [indiscernible] on the TV. So I know you guys utilize that channel quite a bit and I assume with your ability to kind of turn on and turn off or pull levers or whatever that that one must be working. So I wanted to shift gears and look at South Beach, is it too early to really know what's working there that are different. I don't know if you’re doing much TV advertising for that yet, but are there different channels that work better for that or is it more the Internet and social media type stuff that is working at the outset?

Keira Krausz

We definitely expect to be testing all of the above. We are on television and we are out there in digital. That’s something that we’ll, it’s a little early and as Mike said, we're kind of watching customer experience. So we’re balancing the testing and newer channels with the length of stay. I guess what we can say is even from, we’ve done that testing on television and in digital to know that the demand looks strong.

Chris Krueger

Okay. And then with the recent presidential election and thoughts of a border tax or tariffs or something like that, do you have any exposure to anything like that happening or is everything kind of within the US as far as?

Keira Krausz

Yes. Everything is really -- yeah, we’re domestic so everything we do is domestic, so we’re not concerned about that from –

Operator

And we do have a follow-up from Mitch Pinheiro from Wunderlich Securities. Please go ahead.

Mitch Pinheiro

Yeah. Just a couple of quick follow-ups. First, Mike, on working capital, South Beach, is South Beach affecting your working capital, inventories in particular?

Mike Monahan

So for last year, we did have in the fourth quarter an inventory, a little bit more of an inventory buildup as we got ready for 2017. Over the long term, as we generate sales, we expect the working capital to be similar to Nutrisystem.

Mitch Pinheiro

So we should say nothing unusual for 2017?

Mike Monahan

No. The biggest impact of working capital overall is going to be in the fourth quarter as we build our inventory levels based on expected demand in 2018 for both the brands. So typically in terms of cash flow, we tend to build cash over the first part of the year and then cash comes down as you saw in Q4 of 2016 a little bit as we build our inventory levels up.

Mitch Pinheiro

Okay. And then if I missed this, I apologize, capital spending for 2017, do you have a estimate for that?

Mike Monahan

Yes. So we guided 12 million to 14 million for 2017.

Mitch Pinheiro

And how is that going to be spent roughly speaking?

Mike Monahan

In terms of timing?

Mitch Pinheiro

Well, actually, I’m sorry. In terms of projects, in terms of the actual.

Mike Monahan

So we’ll be deploying our capital towards, we're opening up a new warehouse in the second quarter to support the increased demand that we're seeing. We're also making investments in e-commerce as we do each year in terms of customer applications and our overall e-commerce infrastructure and then we're also making investments in back office infrastructure that we do on a regular basis.

Mitch Pinheiro

Okay. And then finally, so, you have 34 million in cash and short term investments, with guidance you put out there, certainly, you’re going to have some significant free cash flow in 2017 that's going to build on that 34 million. Do you have a certain amount of cash that you want to have just sort of to have, I know you have a credit line, when do you think you start looking at or certainly a question for the board, but share repurchases or other things because you're such an asset light model that it's one of the advantages you generate a ton of cash. So if you talked about at all?

Mike Monahan

I can't speak to that now specifically. I can say that we continue to return capital via the dividend to our shareholders and our overall capital structure is something that we look at with the board on kind of a regular basis. But beyond that, I can’t speak to specifics right now.

Operator

Thank you. This does conclude the question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the floor back over to management for any closing comments.

Dawn Zier

Okay. Thank you for your time this afternoon as always. Thank you for our shareholders for their ongoing support and confidence. We look forward to sharing an update on our business and outcomes at coming investor conferences and on future conference calls. Thanks again for your time.

Operator

This concludes today’s teleconference. Thank you for your participation. You may disconnect your lines at this time.

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