Blogging is one of the most powerful media in town, but what does this avenue offer for fresh produce businesses looking for a slice of the golden blogger action?
You don’t have to be in media to recognise how food bloggers have gone from quirky additional to must-read essential in the last five years. Once largely a resource viewed almost like a diary, featuring pictures of what someone had for dinner that night, the food blog has become serious business. Structured, commercial, insightful and published instantly, the top food blogs are giving food magazines, cookery books and newspapers, quite literally, a run for their money.
Bloggers like Deliciously Ella get 150,000 visitors a day on last count [in January 2015]. Eat Like A Girl has more than 37,000 followers on Twitter and A Girl Called Jack has nearly 50,000 likes on Facebook. Compare this with one of our most popular food magazines, Delicious, whose latest ABC circulation figure was 64,667 (from July to December 2014), and the scale of pulling power a well-followed blogger can exercise is evident.
Putting the figures aside, this most importantly equates to influence of those all-powerful consumers. It’s comparable to the Delia Smith effect [a commonly used phrase to describe a run on a previously poor-selling product as a result of a high-profile recommendation], but in more manageable doses.
Supermarkets like Sainsbury’s caught on last year and when Jamie Oliver moved on from his ambassadorial role for the UK’s number three retailer, a spate of work with A Girl Called Jack, aka Jack Monroe, ensued. Sainsbury’s latest television advertisement campaign has gone a step further; featuring everyday people talking to the camera while cooking in their own homes.
“Food blogs and blogs in general are a new type of media,” says Niamh Shields, whose food and travel blog Eat Like A Girl, was placed fourth in media relations company Cision’s top-ten influential UK food blogs in 2014.
“People like the diversity and connection they have with the author. They can be multi-author blogs, more like magazines, or they can be personal and from one person, like mine. They can often be niche too, which appeals to fellow obsessives. Consumers like this and it provides a business opportunity in terms of in-house communication and blogs, as well as partnerships and ambassador schemes.”
Of course, one of the main traits of a blogger is individuality and food bloggers generally won’t flaunt their fame and following for any old commercial cause. Monroe says she turned down a few offers before happily accepting Sainsbury’s as a client back in November 2013.
At the time Monroe told The Guardian: “Sainsbury's is where I've always shopped as it's at the end of my road. I've had approaches from all the other major supermarkets, but it would not have felt right or honest to have worked with them. I know Sainsbury's Basic range like the back of my hand and I like their ethical policies. There's been some give and take – I only use free-range meat, for example, and it's a brave move of Sainsbury's to take me on. I'm not a cheeky chappy like Jamie Oliver – I am a tattooed, gobby single mum."
Kerstin Rodgers, known as Ms MarmiteLover and author of the award-winning www.msmarmitelover.com, feels people trust bloggers in a way that they find it hard to trust celebrities or journalists who they know are getting paid to endorse products.
“Bloggers, if they do it right, are your friends; they’re people on the same level as you,” says Rodgers, winner of the 2013 Guild of Food Writers best blog of the year award and Fortnum and Mason’s 2014 best online food writer gong. In 2004 she started to write her food blog, which now has 55,000 readers a month, because she was feeling isolated as a single parent and wanted to express herself.
Rodgers has some set arrangements in place with various companies and welcomes fresh produce – if it’s to her standards. “Bloggers love to receive produce,” she shares. “I often work with South African fruit. They commission me to write and develop recipes for them and I’m happy to do that with other producers. It’s a great fit for me, as I cook mostly plant-based food. Often suppliers just send me stuff on the off chance and I may or may not make and blog a recipe with it.”
Shields, who writes the Eat Like A Girl blog, gets involved in few commercial partnerships too, but maintains that she is always open to new opportunities, so long as they make sense for her. As such, the food writer advises any business wanting to connect with bloggers should first do their research to find a blogger that is a good fit for them.
“Follow them for a while, chat on social media and get to know them,” she explains. “Maybe you want them to write recipes for you, maybe you want to explore sponsorship opportunities or partnerships on their blog. Either way, think about this but be open as the blogger might have other ideas that work even better for both of you.
“Don't expect bloggers to work for you for free – their passion rarely does and shouldn't extend that far,” Shields continues. “So, have a budget in mind, and be upfront about it. Not every blogger will want to work with you; it’s not what everyone does, but research will help you find the ones that do.”
Blogger interaction doesn’t have to stop there either. Companies with a story to tell and information to share can get involved by setting up a consumer or media targeted blog themselves. This could also lead to commissioning guest food bloggers to blog about the products they would like to promote to whichever audience.
Rodgers, who will publish her third cookery book, V is for Vegan, next month [April 2015], says she loves getting the market report from supplier Chefs Connection. “It reminds you of produce you may have forgotten about,” she says. “I love the language as well, the market chat about ‘good eating’ and all that. When I read about produce from abroad, I feel like I’m looking at a map of the world and, as I love to travel, that excites me about food and produce. It’s always good to hear from people who know their business.
“The age of the dirty burger and dude food has passed to some extent. It’s fine to eat that every so often, but most of the time we should be eating a plant-based diet of fresh vegetables and fruit.”
A lot has changed in the digital world since the now prominent food bloggers started, and it continues to evolve into something new. Shields started her career on photo-sharing website Flickr in 2005, sharing her foodie photos and recipes for two years, until it turned into a blog in 2007.
Now social media is the norm and even professional group blogging, such as The Kitchn, and the likes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, is opening up new avenues. “Microblogging, as in Twitter and Instagram, is very relevant, as are the other social media around blogging,” says Shields. “Short, sharp videos are the future though – that’s the next step.”
What food bloggers are reading
Paris-based David Lebovitz
New York’s Smitten Kitchen
Lavender and Lovage – cooking from Yorkshire and France
The Curry Guy
Current hot topics
Vegetables – in desserts
Kale and cauliflower
Porridge – anytime of the day
Niamh Shields – Eat Like A Girl – Top tips for business blogging
Do it if you have (or employ someone who has) a passion for writing and communicating – it is a huge commitment and takes time.
Use and understand social media – writing a blog is one thing, but you need to know how to make it visible too, and how to extend your reach.
Develop or source skills, in photography, for example.
Connect with your customer base.