Being at the forefront of online food media, UK food editor for Mode Media’s lifestyle site, UK.Glam.com and social media site, Foodie.com, Charlotte Jones prides herself on being one step ahead of the latest foodie trends. Here, she talks to Produce Business UK about fruit and veg, and answers our burning questions about how the mass media can help the produce industry
How would you describe your job?
Charlotte Jones (CJ): A typical day includes a PR meeting, an interview with a chef, sommelier or mixologist, some recipe writing or curating blogger recipes into themed collections for Foodie.com. I also review restaurants and bars and, aside from my editorial work, I speak at conferences and educate advertising agencies on key food trends, plus I judge at The International Chocolate Awards, Great Taste Awards and World Bread Awards.
Why food journalism?
CJ: I fell into writing about food, although I always wanted to be a journalist. At age 15, I did work experience at The Daily Telegraph and from then on I was hooked. After placements at The Sun and a wide variety of magazines, the likes of Zoo and Tatler, I graduated and decided to focus on digital media. In 2011, I took a reporter job at trend forecasting company, Stylus.com. At the same time, I ran my own website, focusing on eastern European food, and then in 2012 Mode Media approached me about creating a food section for UK.Glam.com, assisting with the launch of Foodie.com and editing the The Foodie Top 100 restaurant guidebook. It sounded like a dream come true, so I jumped at the chance.
How is your relationship with the food industry?
CJ: As Stylus.com is a B2B publisher I spent a lot of time building contacts and interviewing the CEOs of a variety of hospitality companies. However, my work at Mode Media is strictly consumer so I deal with a lot of PRs – in-house and agency – working on food and drink products, restaurants and bars. Often, the most rewarding interviews are with small producers, because they are very passionate and have the most interesting stories.
What would improve your relationships with PRs?
CJ: A lot of product companies employ PRs who do not necessarily understand the best way to work with journalists. I do not tend to write about specific food products, but I get sent items and then I’m asked to cover them. If the PR can pick up the phone to ask if the item is relevant first, the producer would waste less. Also, a PR can really push an interview with someone working for a brand or a chef, but that person might not be keen, which wastes a lot of time. However, if you can get me some time with someone behind the idea, about whom I can write a whole profile that includes some information on the product as part of their story, I am happy. I would love to hear from more small producers with really interesting stories, as they are those who I like to champion.
What do you feel are the negative elements to eating/cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables?
CJ: Fruits and vegetables can be expensive and quick spoilage can be off-putting. While we have seen a food revolution in the UK media, people still eat ready meals and buy takeaways. Also, you have to respect the ingredient and cook it appropriately; if people are not informed and do not enjoy their first experience with a fruit or vegetable, they will not buy it again.
What would help improve the image of fresh fruits and vegetables?
CJ: If the cost came down they would be more accessible, but another problem is perception. There has been a lot of media coverage regarding a lack of nutrients in ready-to-eat salads and vegetables. More interesting packaging with further information on how to use items, including serving suggestions, is needed.
Retailers also have a responsibility to showcase seasonal and local produce. If consumers buy an item that is not in season and has experienced a lengthy travel time, it will probably not taste great and as consumers are unlikely to realise why that is the case, they will simply be less inclined to buy it again.
How would you describe the reaction to fresh fruits and vegetables on your website?
CJ: Fruit and vegetable recipes are not as popular as desserts or recipes for meat. Vegetable-based side dishes for occasions such as Christmas are reasonably popular, but our analytics suggest our users tend to use meat or fish as the main part of their meal. Desserts are very popular and people seem to lust over food they consider a naughty treat. Our two most read recipes are toffee apples and lamb shanks. If it’s part of something naughty, fruit gets clicks. Of course, there tends to be an increase in traffic for healthy fruit and vegetable recipes in January, but that is generally short-lived.
Have any new or rediscovered fruits or vegetables have caught your eye recently?
CJ: Globe artichokes may not be new, but I think they have always been underrated. They are suited to so many types of dishes and deserve attention. It’s great to get an opportunity to try new types of mushrooms too: it’s relatively easy to find buna-shimeji, shiro-shimeji, eryngii and enoki these days.
Which is your favourite restaurant?
CJ: Having studied East European History at University College London (UCL), I love Georgian food and wine, so I regularly go to Mimino for khachapuri (a bread stuffed and topped with melted sulguni cheese). On a Friday and Saturday nights they have a keyboard player and singer in the corner, so it’s a little bit like sitting in the middle of the Eurovision song contest, but it’s fun.
What are the main cookery and food trends going forward?
CJ: We are seeing a variety of spicy flavours coming through. First it was chipotle, then sriracha and this year it’s ndjua, which is a Calabrian spicy pork spread that is everywhere. And quite an old fashioned item – radish – is making a bit of a comeback too.
How important will digital be to food media going forward?
CJ: The digital online food presence is crowded. In 2012, Technorati suggested there were more than one million food blogs. Amongst the long-time established food media outlets, like BBC Good Food or delicious magazine, and the constantly evolving big players, like Jamie Oliver and his FoodTube video strategy, what’s interesting is the move of established media players and bloggers, who have not been primarily known for covering food, increasingly moving into that sphere. Established media players such as The New York Times have launched their own food app, while fashion or beauty bloggers that started Instagramming food are now trying their hand at creating food blog posts or videos (vlogs). It’s a competitive area.