Hungry for the opportunity: Kelli Brett on buying Cuisine magazine and steering it into the future

Kelli Brett

“It’s the most expensive Christmas present we’ve ever bought ourselves,” says Kelli Brett, who has stepped into the new year as both editor and part-owner of Cuisine magazine.

She and advertising manager Vanessa Stranan signed on the dotted line on 22 December, taking the next step in their relationship with the magazine that started when they joined it in 2015.

Brett joined from her content director role at ABC, in a move that followed her dream of holding a job that allowed her to work in the food industry full time.

She has since seen the potential of the Cuisine brand and says its 30th birthday last year was a great opportunity to take a look back at the first magazine founder Julie Dalzell published and how it’s evolved since then.

“I looked at the characters and the creative people behind the stories they were telling 30 years ago and I was so proud to have ended up as a part of the Cuisine team.”

That pride is no doubt a reason why she and Stranan put their hands up three times before Fairfax said yes to their offer to buy the magazine. Brett says it’s been one of the jewels in the company crown and Fairfax wanted to put Cuisine in the right hands to keep it relevant for years to come.

“I knew after that first year that I wanted it and I never thought I would have the opportunity,” Brett says. “When It looked like there might be, I didn’t want anyone else to have that opportunity, I knew I wanted it to be me.”

Fairfax shares Brett and Stranan’s confidence in growing the magazine and told StopPress their passion and dedication to the brand would allow it to flourish as it has seen with other magazines that have been sold, including Boating New Zealand and NZ Trucking.

“We wish them all the best and are working closely with them to ensure a smooth and successful transition.”

Both Boating New Zealand and NZ Trucking were sold in 2016. The former was sold to Tim Porter and Brett Patterson, while the latter was bought by Dave McCoid, John Murphy and Matt Smith.

Brett is unable to disclose the sum she and Stranan paid for Cuisine as it was part of the deal that the information would remain confidential.

Farifax was also unable to comment on readership numbers following the sale of the magazine, however, figures released by Nielsen show it’s been stable from quarter to quarter since Q1 of 2016.

Outside of Fairfax and in the wider food media industry, Bauer Media announced at the end of last year that Taste magazine would be changing from a bi-monthly magazine to a quarterly magazine. 

As a result of this change, the magazine is no longer available for subscription.

And New Zealand isn’t the only market experiencing change to its food magazines. Jamie Oliver’s self-titled food magazine closed last year following a decision to focus on its online audience.

News of the closure on Birmingham Mail included a statement from Jamie Oliver Group saying: “We’ve conducted extensive research into our audience needs and while Jamie’s books are more popular than ever – 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food is the fastest-selling Jamie book – our audience is increasingly also looking to digital platforms to find content.”

Going digital                            

Closer to home, the trend of audiences turning to online platforms to find recipes is seen in Dish’s move to create a paywall, behind which lies an archive of recipes from its back catalogue.

Editorial director/publisher of Dish Melissa Gardi says in an age where anyone can Google ‘how to make a trifle’ and immediately be presented with dozens of free recipes, “it’s inspiring and satisfying to see consumers value Dish – parting with their hard-earned cash to access Dish’s recipe archive – especially as the media landscape continues to change at such a rapid pace”.

Gardi adds that the success it’s found with the paywall is evidence that people continue to value authentic, original content and are willing to pay for it.

That paid content sits alongside Dishs other digital branded spaces, including a Facebook page that last year was recognised as the 15th most influential Facebook page in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Facebook Report 2017 by Mosh, takes a look at the local Facebook pages with the most likes, and Dish’s 526,624 (at the time), was above the Facebook pages for the Vodafone Warriors, Shortland Street and ZM.

Meanwhile, Dish’s Instagram platform has grown 78 percent in the past 12 months, to reach 30,500 followers.

Considering how food magazines, both here and abroad, are responding the audience’s move from the page to the screen, it’s no surprise Brett says Cuisines branded digital space will be the focus going forward.

The magazine itself underwent a redesign shortly after Brett’s joining, leaving the room for improvement online.

Cuisine’s digital profile currently consists of a sub-section on Stuff, 19,501 Facebook followers, 18,300 Instagram followers and 11,100 Twitter followers, and going forward Brett says the focus will be on recreating a branded digital space for the magazine.

“We have to have it, there is no question about it,” she says, adding that there’s a lot of work to be done before it’s established what that will look like.

Beyond the pages

Taking on the Cuisine masthead means not only producing a bi-monthly magazine, it also includes the responsibility to deliver the Cuisine Good Food Awards—a year-long job, Brett says.

The annual event celebrates the excellence in the industry and in doing so, demonstrate the magazine’s position in the New Zealand food industry.

Brett describes the magazine as one that’s not just for consumers, but for the food industry as well. She says the work it does to promote restaurants and highlight chefs shares the story of New Zealand food and talent and passion behind it, with the awards demonstrating the best.

“The awards themselves are really important because it’s a way of holding the restaurants accountable and letting them actually get some open, honest feedback on where they’re at,” Brett says.

When Brett started at Cuisine, the event was smaller than what they are today today, with 50 to 60 industry professionals now working to judge them.

“I thought the industry deserved a big celebration, a gala celebration, not just a little, small event,” she says.

“I think they love it, it’s the one time they get to all be under one roof and celebrate the industry and each other and the passion in the room is not like a boring, dry corporate event.”

Maintaining momentum

Just as important to a media brand as its audience is its commercial strength and for Cuisine, Brett does not see the sale of the magazine having any impact.

“We’re very confident that we’re in a good place with advertisers and we have great relationships with agencies and with our current advertisers,” she says, adding there’s no sign of that changing.

Aiding in that confidence is the feedback she and Stranan have received since news broke of their purchase. Brett says it’s been humbling to see the feedback come in through social media from people offering their support.

“I think we are in a really good place. We are feeling really strong and well supported.”

That support will also come in the form of its team of staff which will now include both new and old.

Art director Fiona Lascelles and office manager Lee-Anne Mitcheson will remain with the magazine, while deputy editor Alice Neville is going out on her own. Brett commends Neville for an amazing job, calling her one of the best, but acknowledges that with change comes opportunity.

And for Brett, that opportunity lies in the new creatives she’s looking to bring into the team.

They will remain in the Fairfax offices until the end of March, allowing time for the right offices to be found and the magazine to be taken out of the corporate company to stand alone.

It will also allow a smooth transition and ensure readers don’t notice the change and there’s no plan to disrupt the existing print schedule.

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