Food52 Leans In As A Haven For Home Cooks

People are stuck at home and want to cook. Food52, already a resource for home cooks, is stepping up to meet the soaring demand.

That means helping readers make easy quarantine recipes, find the best ingredients to stock their pantry and solving the mysterious shortage of yeast everywhere.

Food52’s traffic is up 36% in the past two weeks, similar to the pre-Thanksgiving traffic surge. The email open rate rose to 20%. Video content consumption is growing too: Views increased 53%, and minutes watched climbed 56%. YouTube subscribers also rose by 51% in the past two weeks.

“We’ve been listening in the moment to what people are asking for – what they need to know, want to know and where we can be helpful,” said Food52 CEO and co-founder Amanda Hesser.

Meanwhile, Food52 production has become decidedly DIY. Hesser’s daughter and husband are now her videographers. During a recent shoot, the “Genius Recipes” editor’s toddler woke up early from her nap and became part of the video.

“People responded to it, because it’s a reflection of the challenges people are having day to day,” Hesser said.

Since Food52’s content is particularly helpful for people under stay-at-home orders, it’s not only seeing traffic surge, but its commerce business has taken off too. The online store accounts for three-quarters of the publisher’s business.

“Because people are home, they’re realizing there are things they need that they can’t get locally,” Hesser said. “And they’re spending more time at home and want to finally organize their pantry or fix up their space.”

For example, puzzles and game sales skyrocketed 800%. Liquid hand soap sales spiked 300%. Pantry sales grew 30%, and kid and baby room decor rose 150%.

Last week, Food52 started selling cloth face masks on its site from Steele Canvas, which normally sells high-end laundry baskets. They sold out in a 36-hour span, during which readers also donated 10,000 face masks to medical providers via a “buy one, give one” model.

The collaboration was created in just over a week – much faster than is typical for the food publication.

“Everything in our schedule is usually very planned. Emails are planned weeks in advance,” Hesser said. “In a moment like this, we’ve had to change our mindset to one that’s more of a news organization.”

For example, while some of the makers in Food52’s online store can run their businesses as usual, other vendors have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Food52 created a “Support A Maker” series, which includes an email and social marketing push to spotlight its partners who are struggling. Ceramicist Jono Pandolfi, who primarily works with restauranteurs, was recently highlighted.

The sales for companies featured in the series were 10 times higher after the marketing pushes, Hesser said.

Caution ahead

Although traffic and commerce spiked in the early weeks of the pandemic, Hesser is taking a conservative approach, mindful that consumer spending will deteriorate in the future.

“While we are doing well right now, we are also very aware of the fact that there is a near-certain economic downturn upon us, and that is likely to affect all businesses,” Hesser said.

Though advertising accounts for around one-quarter of Food52’s business, it isn’t seeing stark declines other digital media is experiencing. Though travel advertisers have mostly gone quiet, a couple of advertisers have already restarted campaigns, Hesser said.

Food52 is also seeing new interest from food, spirits and home decor advertisers that want to reach people looking for projects or food and drink ideas while they’re at home.

“Brands that were not necessarily on your panic buying list want the opportunity to get in front of consumers,” Hesser said.

As the pandemic continues, Food52 is adjusting content based on behavior shifts as people settle into stay-at-home routines.

First everyone wanted pantry recipes, Hesser said. Then people searched for quick or make-ahead recipes so they could work from home. Now there’s a wave of people taking on ambitious projects, such as bread baking. “We’ve seen a lot of microtrends happen week to week.”

With upended reader interests, buying patterns and advertiser behavior, Hesser is relying on her team’s creativity to get the company through these unprecedented times.

“Creative people like challenges, and limitations inspire creativity,” Hesser said. “We’ll look back at this fondly as a moment where we pushed ourselves to experiment, come up with new ideas and fresh ways to interact with our community.”

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