Virgin Active announces new CEO and Real Foods acquisition

Virgin Active
Virgin Active
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
4 March 2022

Virgin Active has announced that Dean Kowarski, founder of The Real Foods Group, has been appointed as its Group CEO.

Dean started the Real Foods Group in 2013 and acquired the Kauai business in 2015 and has subsequently grown the business from 100 stores to 204 stores. Dean has been active in, and has an in-depth understanding and passion for, the health and wellness space for many years. 

​​Matthew Bucknall, who had previously announced his intention to retire 25 years after co-founding the business, will step down as CEO. He will remain as a special adviser to the Board and as a Non-Executive Director of Virgin Active Italy.

Virgin Active
Virgin Active

The company has also announced an internal promotion. Mark Field, who is currently Manager Director at Virgin Active South Africa, will become Group CFO once a new MD for Virgin Active South Africa has been appointed.

Brait and Virgin Group, the existing shareholders of Virgin Active, will be investing an additional £20.2 million in the business. Certain members of the investor consortium in Real Foods will invest £18.2 million and Titan Premier Investments Limited, an investment vehicle of Christo Wiese, will invest £50 million to become new shareholders in Virgin Active.

Virgin Active also separately announced that it has acquired the nutrition assets of The Real Foods Group for £28.6 million. This acquisition is subject to a number of conditions precedent, including regulatory approvals, and is anticipated to be implemented in the second quarter of this year. Upon implementation, the Real Foods Group nutrition assets will be combined with Virgin Active to create a wellness group. 

Virgin Active Australia reformer pilates class
Virgin Active

“This is an incredibly exciting moment for Virgin Active and The Real Foods Group,” Dean Kowarski said. “Both brands have been pioneers in their respective wellness fields, building local and international reputations for excellence. On the back of today’s transaction, we now have the opportunity to combine our skills to deliver a complete health offer around both fitness and nutrition so that our members can meet their health goals more successfully. This, alongside the additional investment in the business, positions Virgin Active strongly to deliver growth over the long term.”

Matthew Bucknall, Co-founder and retiring CEO of Virgin Active, added: “It has long been our strategy to complete the virtuous circle of exercise, diet and health for our members. Combining Virgin Active’s leadership in exercise experience with Real Foods proven expertise in nutrition creates a very credible and compelling offer. Virgin Active is now ideally placed to support the ever-growing demand for healthier lifestyles. I have worked closely with Dean and the Real Food Group for many years and have every confidence in the success of the combined business.” 

Simon Susman, Chairman of Virgin Active, said: “Today’s announcements are an important next step for Virgin Active as we capitalise on positive health trends around the world. We are delighted to welcome Dean Kowarski as CEO. He has a strong track record at Real Foods and our two businesses have worked well together for many years. At the same time, I would like to thank Matthew for the enormous amount that he has achieved in his 25 years at Virgin Active. His ongoing experience as an adviser to the board will be invaluable.”

The pandemic has accelerated people’s appetite to lead a healthier lifestyle. After implementation of the Real Foods acquisition, Virgin Active and Real Foods will operate with a shared vision, under the guidance of a single leadership group, which will help create opportunities and commercial efficiencies to build a broader wellbeing offering. It will enable the group to align fitness and nutrition around a single goal and provide shared data and personalised nutrition in concert with curated, accessible exercise programs. This will allow members and customers to realise their health goals more effectively and sustainably which, in turn, will drive membership growth and retention.