Cooking Websites See a Traffic Boost as People Are Urged to Stay Home

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With so many people in their homes around the clock and a large percentage of restaurants shuttered for now, many people are finding themselves needing to cook their own dinners—maybe for the first time in a while, or the first time ever.

So they’re turning to experts like New York Times food columnist Alison Roman.

Despite a downward trend overall this year for New York Times Cooking video views according to Tubular Labs, Roman gained 52,000 Instagram followers in March. (The New York Times said that its cooking section has been posting positive year-over-year and month-over-month growth this spring, but declined to share details.)

Roman said she’s noticed more interaction on social media from people who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with cooking for themselves—the people, she said, who’ve maybe “never touched a chicken.” In response, Roman said she’s spent more time troubleshooting and doing Q&As on social media since the push to social distance began last month.

“I feel like it’s just like an entirely different demographic,” she said. Roman also noted that she’s more available to pay attention to social media than she was before this began, and that in turn leads to more engagement, creating a reinforcing cycle of social media activity.

But as far as monetizing that traffic, Roman is hesitant to engage in any partnerships right now that aren’t focused on charity.

“Benefiting inadvertently from this crisis is a weird thing,” she said. But after all this is over, she said if there are a few people who cook regularly who didn’t before, that’ll be “one OK thing that came out of this.”

Notable traffic

Traffic to food websites like Meredith-owned, The Chernin Group’s Food52, Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit and Buzzfeed’s Tasty have all seen a bump in traffic in the last few weeks, especially in views of how-to videos and recipe demonstrations.

When the coronavirus began taking hold of the U.S. in March, it was was the busiest month for food websites since July 2019—a month that always gets a boost due to Fourth of July celebrations and summer gatherings, said John Cassillo, an analyst at media analysis group TV[R]EV.

Publishers overall have seen an uptick in traffic due to interest in coronavirus coverage, but have struggled to monetize those eyeballs in terms of advertising because brands are hesitant to put their messages around such a topic.

Food media execs who spoke to Adweek said they’re using the traffic increase as an opportunity to grow readership and build a community to hopefully retain those readers for when COVID-19 has passed.

Building trust and community

Food52 and Bon Appétit are both taking a similar tack by focusing largely on building community through online channels while so many are at home with more time on their hands than normal. Last week, Bon Appétit partnered with No Kid Hungry to raise over $25,000 for the nonprofit. In return for the donations, the publisher’s Test Kitchen crew sent personalized messages to fans.

Bon Appétit has also shifted content to support the specific challenges faced by home cooks in the age of quarantine, like curating content around certain pantry staples, highlighting the kinds of ingredients that can be substituted for others to save trips to the grocery store and providing tips on food storage.

Cooking, and the community that’s built around these publishers, can provide a cathartic outlet in stressful times, according to Food52 CEO Amanda Hesser. “People are craving community, and I think newcomers see that our virtual one is pretty tight-knit,” she said. “Users are answering each other’s questions, sharing inspiring ideas and offering encouragement.”

Reshuffling content creates opportunities for new partnerships

Meredith’s food publications are providing an outlet for for advertisers, particularly in new categories for the publisher. “While some [private marketplace] deals have paused,” said Meredith Digital president Catherine Levene, “We’ve started new ones in the food, entertainment, home and finance categories.”

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