Amanda Hesser, founder and CEO of Food52, a first-of-its kind, next-generation cooking and home company built on a unique blend of content, community and commerce, provided an in-depth look into the development and growth of the company during a Keynote session at The Inspired Home Show. Hesser sat down with Peter Giannetti, editor-in-chief of HomePage News, to share insights into the company’s unique brand, its relatively quick success and what’s in store for them next.
With a background as a newspaper food reporter and cookbook author, Hesser admits it’s been an “unconventional path” to heading the current-day Food52. But she and her friend and fellow co-founder Merrill Stubbs found their initial inspiration while reviewing the 19th century archives of The New York Times. They were surprised to find an abundance of pieces in which people would write in with food and household-related questions and others would respond with suggestions, recipes and more.
“We realized then that this was a timeless thing that we can build on using technology,” she shared.
A Unique Blend of Content, Community and Commerce
What began in 2008 as a website that only made product recommendations is now a unique blend of content, a community of 25 million people, and a commerce site featuring a variety of curated products, a new product line of its own, and products from the newly purchased brands of Dansk and Schoolhouse.
Tying it all together is a unique, authentic Food52 brand that is trustworthy and offers support through all stages of life. “Some lifestyle brands feel manufactured or unattainable,” said Hesser. “I see our brand as a happy, healthy companion throughout your life.”
While Hesser’s influence on the brand is evident, the company’s unique culture plays a key role as well. “We have had a strong record of attracting people who are passionate about food and related lifestyle issues over the years. Eating well and living well matters to them,” she said. “For that reason, we used to always say we don’t have a community, we are a community.”
One might say another part of the company’s success has been a constant desire to grow and evolve. While the dropship e-commerce site launched in 2013, Food52’s helpful and trustworthy content has helped drive sales. In 2020, the company boosted its already influential content machine by launching the Food52 Resident Program, which is a mutually beneficial partnership with online experts and influencers.
Not stopping there, the company has launched its own brand of products–Five Two. This brand was important to Food52, according to Hesser, because it was important to them that they were asking their community what they were looking for before creating a new product.
“Made by us, made for you” is our tagline,” she said. “And it’s important that we’re giving them not just what they’re asking for, but that we’re also inspiring, surprising and educating them like a friend.”
As an example of Food52’s dedication to its community, they sought detailed input on the line’s first product: a cutting board. They received close to 10,000 responses to a survey and reviewed all 5,000 of the open-ended feedback they received by hand.
Recent Strategic Moves
A relatively new venture is the Home52 platform, which builds on the trust the company has built with consumers and the connections they all see between home and food. The company also recently acquired Dansk cookware and bakeware, as well as Schoolhouse décor.
While those two brands are different in their histories and offerings, they share a commonality that just resonated with Hesser. “We love brands with soulfulness,” she said.
Hesser said her biggest goal for the coming year is integrating the Schoolhouse team into the Food52 team, as well as building a new headquarters in Brooklyn, a project that was tabled shortly after the pandemic began.
Food52 was not immune to the dramatic challenges that the pandemic brought to the world and home and housewares industry, but Hesser said they were able to emerge stronger thanks to “tons of hustle” and “being willing to experiment.”
Last but not least, a bricks-and-mortar concept is in the works for 2023. Details are still being developed, but Hesser said the location will be about more than just selling products on shelves.
Looking back at the company’s 12-year history, “We made some good decisions, but we also got lucky (with the dissolution of many traditional food media outlets and huge shifts in e-commerce),” she said. “You definitely learn how much grit you have.”
Get Ready for The Inspired Home Show 2023!
March 4-7, 2023