In November 2011, Woolworth’s TASTE debuts its first bumper Readers’ Issue, showcasing favourite recipes, wines, restaurants and tips submitted by its readers. In this Q&A, Editor Sumien Brink (@Sumienbrink) of New Media discusses the evolution and importance of The Readers’ Issue.
Q: How did the Readers’ Issue come about?
A: I really wanted to do something fresh and different in TASTE that would more directly involve our readers, who are after all, our reason for being here. One night I was lying awake in bed, and suddenly, I knew that a Readers’ Issue was what we should do. At first, my editorial team thought I was mad, but I convinced them that we could pull it off. And, I believe we’ve done more than that – the November issue is a publishing coup for New Media.
Q: Do other food magazines do this sort of thing?
A: We’ve seen overseas magazines do readers’ issues before, but not within the same kind of time constraints that we did. That’s one of many areas where New Media really leads the market in South Africa – the company’s innovative approach and flexibility allow us to try new things without creative constraint. The results are always very exciting.
Q: Why now?
A: In November, we are on the cusp of summer. The days are warmer, and bright summer produce is beginning to appear on shelves, it seemed the perfect time to give our readers centre stage.
Coincidentally, it’s also a time for budding chefs to flaunt their stuff on TV as MasterChef South Africa kicks off its call for entrants, with Woolworths as a proud food retail sponsor.
Q: How did you invite readers to contribute?
A: We used all our outlets – the magazine, TASTE’s online newsletter and Facebook – to let our readers know about the special issue over a two-week period. In addition, we sent out a special mailer to our newsletter database. Woolworths also gave us exposure on their Facebook page and Woolworths Twitter.
Q: What did you ask for?
A: My whole team agreed that if we were going to do a Readers’ Issue, it had to fit in with TASTE’s intrinsic values and parameters. So, we kept with our seasonal focus, and asked for all-time best summer dessert, fruit and vegetable recipes. We also wanted to know our readers’ favourite quick meals, cookery books, restaurants, chefs and gadgets, as well as their best speedy, affordable midweek recipes.
Q: What was the response?
A: It was overwhelming! We started receiving entries as soon as we made the announcement, and in practically no time, we had over 300 entries. Initially it was a little scary, as it was quite a challenge for our food editors to sift through all the recipes. Recipes had to be tested and we went through a tough elimination process to choose the ones we felt tasted and looked the best. We ended up with 28 fantastic reader recipes that I can honestly say stand up to any of the recipes we generate ourselves.
Q: TASTE is known for its beautiful style and luscious photography. What was it like to produce this issue, using other people’s recipes?
It truly was a race against the clock to compile, cook, style and photograph this issue. We basically created the whole issue, which normally would have been spread over two months, in three weeks! As we worked our way through the process, food editors Abigail Donnelly (@Abidonnnelly) and Phillipa Chefitz, as well as the rest of the team really rose to the occasion, and we are pleased as can be about the final outcome.
Q: What are some of the highlights?
That’s a tough one! I suppose the most obvious is the cover, which was also chosen by our readers and which features a colourful Mozzarella and Roast Red Pepper Salad contributed by reader Monique Labat from Durban. We asked our readers on the TASTE website and via social media which of two beautifully shot covers they preferred.
One of my favourite features is the Weekend Feast. It’s a beautifully photographed summer meal featuring recipes from six TASTE readers that has all come together so nicely – it’s as if one person had developed the menu instead of six. We’ve also featured a reader recipe in each week of our regular Month of Meals, and readers name their all-time favourite South African wines in Allan Mullins Top of The Glass. And there are plenty of giveaways.
I think that most of all, readers will really respond to the profiles and snippets from our featured readers. Especially interesting is the profile of reader Michelle Koblischke, a former advertising executive who ditched her career for the love of food. Michelle was the only one of our contributing readers who cooked all her own food for her TASTE shoot, and she did a marvellous job.
We’re thrilled to have exclusive extracts from two brand new cookbooks written by our readers’ favourite chefs: Reuben Cooks Local, the newest cookbook from Reuben Riffel, who was voted South Africa’s favourite chef, and Jamie’s Great Britain, from most-loved international chef and kitchen icon Jamie Oliver. We are giving away copies of both books to lucky readers who enter.
TASTE food editor Abigail Donnelly also shows readers how to whip up flawless macaroons.
TASTE wants to be as green as possible, and this month, we are offering a free online booklet of readers’ best-ever TASTE summer recipes, that can be downloaded from Tastemag.co.za.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get from TASTE readers?
A: The readers whose content we are using in the issue are over the moon. Even us long-time food editors and writers love seeing our recipes beautifully styled and shot in a magazine, so you can imagine how our winners must be feeling!
What’s just as interesting is the feedback we’ve received from the TASTE Readers’ Survey, which we ran simultaneously online. From over 2000 respondents, we learned that not only are our readers really enjoying and using the magazine, but also that the vast majority are finding our recipes quite achievable and affordable. This is, of course, very gratifying. We also learned that our readers are made up of those who are looking only for the simplest of recipes as well as those who are up to the more advanced kitchen challenges – and everything in between.
One thing that really came through is that our readers want more recipes, and especially those that can be prepared in 30 minutes and don’t cost a fortune. We’ll definitely be taking that into account, in future. Another thing that came out of the survey was an overwhelming number of requests for diabetic-friendly foods. In answer to that, our Assistant Food Editor Hannah Lewry has come up with some sweet sugar-free treats in our November issue, which also happens to coincide with World Diabetes Day on November 14.
Q: Will we be seeing more Readers’ issues?
A: Definitely. Most likely we’ll do regular Summer and Winter Readers’ issues, but we’re going to integrate more reader input in every issue from now on, as well as on our website.
While we tend to think that social media is the best facilitator for interaction, we hope we’ve proven that magazines can be just as good. Why not engage with our audience in the way they know us best – through the pages of our glossy!
For more information or to download the free online booklet of readers’ best-ever TASTE summer recipes, log onto www.Tastemag.co.za.