Tucking into the business of recipes

With food media engagement at an all-time high, new recipe-publishing platforms have their sights set on democratizing the industry for chefs and creators alike.
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‘There's going to be great tech in every part of our lives. Netflix in your living room, Peloton in your home gym, but there's no amazing software for the kitchen. What will this software look like?’ asks Dan Stitzel, co-founder of Foody, a new recipe website that aims to streamline the way that users discover and consume recipe content. If Foody gets its way, it'll change how we cook and will create new opportunities for creatives. 

Foody's ‘recipe marketplace for culinary creators’ was founded by San Francisco-based couple Brenna and Dan Stitzel. The launch didn't come cheap: the couple raised more than $1.5 million in funding from investors including tennis player Serena Williams and Jack Conte, co-founder of membership platform Patreon

Foody features some well-known chefs and food personalities (Jeremiah Tower, Brandon Jew, Gaby Dalkin), but it's open to anyone who wants to publish original recipes. Users upload a recipe, alongside an intro, pictures or video content, and then monetize their work via a paywall. 

Recipes start at 99¢, with creators retaining full control over pricing; Foody takes a 20% fee. Outside of platforms like Foody, there are only a handful of ways to monetize recipe content.

Authors can land a brand partnership, pitch to a publication for a fixed fee, self-publish and rely on ad-driven revenue or, harder still, secure a cookbook deal. Print and online publications will usually pay around £50 to £100 for an original recipe. In addition to the fee, the food costs of developing the recipe may be covered but, assuming the author completes a research stage and carries out a number of time-consuming recipe tests, the hourly rate is minimal. The publication will then own the rights to the recipe, with the author taking home only the flat fee. 

The reality is that achieving success via these avenues requires a substantial audience or social media following. Subscription-based platforms Patreon and Substack provide an alternative with serious earning potential. Freelance food writer Alicia Kennedy's newsletter is currently the seventh most popular in the Substack food-and-beverage category and has become a major source of income. She charges a fee of $5 to around 1,700 subscribers each month for her work. 

But the Stitzels saw an opportunity for a website tailored exclusively towards food. ‘We see Foody as a utility to help people cook and chefs get paid. The big platforms like TikTok and Instagram are more about distribution and entertainment,’ explains Dan. If users can funnel a small percentage of their existing audience to their Foody page, they can make decent money – even creators with smaller audiences of around 10,000 followers can make $1,000 by converting just 1% of their free content audience to paying customers, according to Foody.

For Dan, Foody is a reaction to the seemingly endless free recipe content on social media. ‘It's insane that it's free – it's a lot of work, and it costs money and time to develop a great recipe.’ The prevalence of free content on social media is largely driven by brand partnerships. As food and cookware brands are deeply incentivized to get people in the kitchen, partnered content is almost always free to maximize impressions. However, these lucrative brand deals are available only to chefs or creators with a large following.

So, an economic Catch-22 exists for aspiring food creatives: to effectively monetize their content via social media they need a sizable audience, but to grow and gain the trust of an audience they need to invest in recipe content and dish it out for free. This process devalues recipes as commercial products, rendering them a disposable commodity to scroll past. Calls for change within the industry are increasing. 

Foody isn't the only new business to see this opportunity. Berlin-based website The Plate has a similar offering. Creators retain full autonomy, charging a self-determined fee for recipes uploaded to the website, with The Plate taking a 20% cut. Co-founder Isabell Weiser sees the platform as less of a starkly transactional marketplace and more about building longer-term communities that can financially support creators. ‘What we're really looking for is personality and storytelling skills,’ says Isabell. ‘We're reaching out to people we find passionate.’ The Plate offers specialized courses, live cooking classes and encourages active dialog between users and creators to help grow these communities.

Another new platform is Peckish, a recipe-publishing app launched by Ben Lebus, founder of the Mouth group (which also includes recipe website Mob and talent agency Juiced). Ben launched Peckish to a small group of beta testers in November 2021 and is yet to activate any monetization features. ‘The principal focus for Peckish [is] to democratize food fame and exposure on social media,’ says Ben. 

He can see the platform allowing monetization down the line, but he believes that more learning needs to be done in the sector before it can be justified. ‘Other platforms are focused on the creator economy and the ability to monetize right from the outset but, for us, to take payments from users, the platform has to be at the top of its game.’

Christian Reynoso, food writer and Foody creator, argues, ‘Recipe and writing work, in general, is under-valued. Chefs and cooks are notoriously under-paid, so there's a need to challenge mainstream ways of getting paid for this type of work.’ While Foody provides an economic alternative for those with an established audience, it's also a leg up for those trying to break into the industry. 

Ultimately, the success of this emerging subsection of the food industry will be determined by the creators who can effectively use the new breed of platform and whether it really does offer a more level playing field. Ben believes, ‘It's not going to be a winner-takes-all market, but we'll definitely see a couple of newly established platforms come out [as] front runners that a lot of people use to publish and potentially monetize their work.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 46, April/May 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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