Food Blogging for Dollars

By Robert McGarvey | Wednesday, 17 February 2021 | Feature, Food & Beverage

You like food. You want to make money. Right there, for many, the fantasy collapses. Who can actually make a living by focusing on food? For many — millions probably — food blogging is a hobby. Then there are the growing numbers who actually write about food and earn a substantial income from a mix of brand sponsorships and advertising dollars.

A woman in her kitchen creating a food vlog.

This has become a golden age for food bloggers, especially as the pandemic and associated lockdowns have fueled surging interest in food as well as a lot more home cooking. From baking bread to seeking inventive ways to prepare chicken wings (an unexpected pandemic favorite), a hungry public has turned to the web and social media to learn what to cook, now, and how to cook it better.

Smart food bloggers are profiting from this.

Meet Whitney Bond, a food blogger in San Diego whose business has grown to a point where she has three employees and who juggles projects for brands ranging from Cabot cheese to Ralphs, a large southern California grocery chain. Bond — whose tagline is Quick + Easy Recipes with Fresh Ingredients — said she has been “monetizing” her blog since 2012.

The money, Bond elaborated, primarily is generated by recipes and she, like the other successful food bloggers, focuses on creating her own recipes such as Guacamole Stuffed Chicken — a post sponsored by Vons, another southern California grocery chain — and Thai Peanut Sweet Potato Buddha Bowl.

Focus on the second dish: Thai, sweet potato, buddha bowl, bingo. Bond cleverly packaged together three dining hot buttons, and the result is a page that keeps winning views.

And that is exactly the kind of clever thinking food bloggers need to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.

The Federal Disclosure Requirement

Understand that food bloggers who are compensated by brands clearly note that relationship in their posts, a disclosure required by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has stated: “Do you work with brands to recommend or endorse products? If so, you need to comply with the law when making these recommendations. One key is to make a good disclosure of your relationship to the brand.” Compensation can range from free products to monetary fees — all need a disclosure per the FTC.

Lots of bloggers now are making that disclosure because the money is flowing their way as brands look for ways to humanize their products and to create direct connections with consumers. A block of cheddar might seem just a block of cheddar, but when the cheese is incorporated into a recipe by a blogger whose personality (and food ideas!) a consumer likes, a human connection is made. A belief is that many of us have grown cynical about traditional advertising, but we like and trust bloggers who come across as people just like us.

Money Talks

As for how bloggers corral brands as clients, Bond said that she has reached out to brands whose products she personally liked. In other cases, bloggers get work when a brand has noticed their work and approaches them. In still other cases, brands put out a call — for instance that they are looking for several dozen bloggers to post, say, Easter ham recipes.

Rates for sponsored posts are all over the map. Numbers as low as $50 are heard, and that is for a blog that might range up to 1,000 words and will include several photographs. But at the high end, some food bloggers report earning as much as $3,000 for a single post.

Some — with high site traffic, typically upwards of 50,000 page views per month — also earn money through advertising networks (MediaVine is cited by many food bloggers) that sell ads to brands and place them on appropriate websites.

The bottom line is that cash is flowing to bloggers who deliver the proverbial bacon to brands that are hungry for more sales to more hungry consumers.

Our Hunger for Recipes

Bloggers like upstate New York based David Dial — who holds a PhD in sports management from the University of Georgia — earns his living blogging at Spiced Blog where his clients include Pillsbury, the New York Beef Council, Kings Hawaiian, and Cabot cheese. He said he has been at this work ten years, and some of the recipes he posts (Butter Flake Rolls, for instance) have won over 100,000 impressions.

Like most food bloggers, Dial posts recipes on his own blog, but he also posts snippets of the recipes, with links back to the blog, on social networks, such as Instagram and Pinterest. The latter, he said, generates about half the traffic at his blog and other bloggers say likewise. But most bloggers post to all the main social networks because that brings traffic to the post.

Not an Overnight Success

Patience is key to building a food blogging business. In Richmond, Virginia, Liz Thomson — who blogs at I Heart Vegetables — said she started food blogging in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2019 that she took it full time when she realized she could match the income she earned as a social media expert at a large financial services company. In talking with other food bloggers, “the light bulb went off in my head. I realized it is possible to make over $100,000 a year doing this,” said Thomson.

With potential clients, Thomson has a powerful message: “You are investing in evergreen content. I have posts that are still getting traffic years after they were posted.”

That is a key to the profitability of food blogging: the content lasts and every successful food blogger can point to a post that went live five years ago and is still bringing in traffic.

Know Your Brand

Candice Walker, a food blogger who splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, posts at Proportional Plate, and she offered a key to success: “Know your brand. Know your target audience.”

It doesn’t work for a food blogger to be all things to all cooks. The ones who succeed have defined what their focus is, and in Walker’s case, this means how and what to eat to eat “proportionally.”

She elaborated: “Everyone's body and lifestyle are very different. A big part of the journey to eating proportionally is learning your body. What does it need to feel strong, powerful, energized, and balanced? What foods make you feel sluggish, moody, and unbalanced?”

Anna Rider, a food blogger in Colorado who posts at Garlic Delight, agreed. “Bring your own voice, your own point of view. Most food bloggers who succeed have a very clear audience. They are doing things differently.”

SEO Is the Secret Recipe for Food Blogging Success

Rider also said that before writing a post, she does a lot of SEO research — that is, search engine optimization, meaning are people in fact searching for this topic. She added: “Am I solving a problem? Posts that perform best are solving a problem.”

Walker agreed: “I do keyword research and I think about SEO.” She added that SEO is another way of talking about what readers are interested in, and her goal is to put up posts that ring the readers’ bells.

Put up a post that attracts scant readership, and that’s a fail — but know that just about every blogger does that occasionally.

The key is to be sure to score big on a recurring basis.

Case in point: one of Rider’s best-performing posts is how to freeze tofu, a post where she noted that she advises against freezing silken tofu (it loses the silken texture in freezing) but is a big fan of freezing firm and extra firm tofu. And who hasn’t looked at a block of tofu in the refrigerator and realized the use-by date is upon you, but you just aren’t in a tofu mood? That’s why freezing is a useful option, and Rider gives clear, easy to follow instructions — and doing the same is a key to every successful food blog. The readers learn a step by step solution to a problem they face, be it tofu on the edge of spoiling or what to eat for dinner tonight.

Don’t fear venturing into the, well, strange — some of food blogging’s biggest successes are unexpected combinations. For instance, Walker has a recipe for dalgona matcha latte, which takes the Korean-derived dalgona (a coffee drink that whips together instant coffee granules, sugar, and water) which has become an Internet hit and utterly transforms it by building a drink around matcha (green tea powder), egg white, and sugar which is whipped and whipped until it is frothy.

“That drink has been a big hit for me,” said Walker, and a search for the drink in Google brings up her Proportional Plate as the first link.

That’s a win.

Know this: it is easy to make nothing as a food blogger. But for those who blend comfort with cooking, skill at photography, and a deep curiosity about what the public wants to know about food right now, there is money to be made. And today’s energetic and creative food bloggers are banking their skills in these areas.

About the Author

Headshot of Robert McGarvey

Robert McGarvey, a veteran journalist who has long covered startups and small businesses, created and hosts the CU2.0 Podcast for credit union and fintech executives which is at 120 episodes and counting.

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