Even as the editors of Sosland Publishing Co. (SPC) worked diligently to report on the challenges facing the industries covered by our publications in 2020, our company grappled with numerous hurdles over the course of “the year of the pandemic.” Like thousands of businesses, SPC sent nearly its entire workforce home in late March. Our team had to learn on the fly how to complete remotely the multitude of tasks involved in researching, writing, editing, designing and selling the magazines we publish at a rate of more than two per week, together with the dozens of online stories we post and the many newsletters we send out each day. The effort was a success. It’s no exaggeration to state that not a single publishing deadline was missed over the course of the year.
While magazines were produced and printed just as our customers expect, the same may not be said of our annual Purchasing Seminar. For the first time since the 1970s, purchasing executives and suppliers were unable to gather in person for what has become the preeminent annual event for grain-based foods. A virtual event helped our speakers disseminate the crucial information at the core of this event, but there was no way to truly replicate the unparalleled networking that fuels the seminar year after year.
The pandemic also took a significant bite out of advertising revenue during the year with an alarming loss of business at the peak of the economic shutdown. Sales were far closer to normal the final months of the year, and the company was able to close the year in the black thanks to advertisers who stayed the course (appreciating the heightened value of advertising at a time when meeting customers in-person is more difficult) and because of cost savings related to canceled travel and other expenses that were trimmed because of the pandemic. The cost savings allowed the company to stave off any workforce reductions.
Despite the challenging year, exciting initiatives were launched over the course of 2020. Standing out among 2020 launches was Food Entrepreneur as a six-time insert within Food Business News. Capitalizing on FBN’s success in tracking and reporting on food and beverage trends and startups, Food Entrepreneur was well received and featured interviews with startup luminaries such as Ethan Brown (of Beyond Meat, Inc.) and Andy and Rachel Berliner (Amy’s Kitchen) as well as profiles of numerous dynamic individuals behind nascent startups. In 2021, Food Entrepreneur will expand with more electronic newsletters and special content in each issue of Food Business News.
A digital first in baking for Sosland Publishing in 2020 was “Since Sliced Bread,” a podcast produced by Baking & Snack. Conducted in quarterly “seasons,” the podcasts feature interviews by Charlotte Atchley, the publication’s editor, of a wide range of industry leaders covering the most pressing topics facing the baking industry today. Attracting tens of thousands of listeners, the podcasts have proven remarkably evergreen, drawing as large an audience in the weeks, even months, after the season is concluded in some cases as during the seasons. Meat + Poultry, which has been producing podcasts since 2018, expanded in the space in 2020 with almost 50 during the year.
“Since Sliced Bread” wasn’t the only arena of digital growth at SPC in 2020. Digital sales accounted for 35% of all advertising SPC revenue this year, up from 28% in 2019. Digital sales for Food Business News exceeded print revenues for the publication, a remarkable milestone as business-to-business publishing continues its gradual but incessant migration to digital from print.
The growth in digital sales mirrored remarkable growth in traffic on SPC web sites. Each of the company’s seven websites easily beat its targeted gains for 2020. Through Dec. 28, Bakingbusiness.com had recorded 1,960,311 page views, up 16% from the year before. Other sites grew even faster with page views on Meatpoultry.com surging 54%. Fueling readership was intense interest in challenges facing the meat processing industry, the wrenchingly difficult decisions industry executives were forced to make in the face of the pandemic and the massive resources companies invested to keep employees safe and operations running.
Foodbusinessnews.net remained the most visited site, with page views up 27% and topping 7.6 million. All told, web page views in 2020 across all SPC web sites exceeded 15.6 million, up 31% and demonstrating the ravenous appetite for timely information across the industries served by Sosland Publishing.
While the growth in page views has been remarkable, a major focus in 2020 was building the company’s “known audience,” visitors who have registered and allow us to see what role readers play in the industry. From a year-end known audience of 131,197 in 2019, SPC set an ambitious growth target of 168,720 (29% growth) for the end of the year, but actually ended at 198,922 as of Dec. 28, a remarkable 52% jump. Bringing this larger group into focus offers benefits to our editors as they fine-tune coverage priorities and advertisers, as they have a clearer picture than ever of who is reading our articles and viewing advertisements. It was with an eye to meet the changing needs of advertisers that SPC welcomed in 2020 Jim Saladin as the company’s first chief marketing officer.
Major initiatives are on tap for 2021. Two years after the successful introduction of Petfood Processing (which was the company’s first magazine launch in more than a decade), SPC in the new year will introduce Dairy Processing, covering the multi-billion dollar dairy foods market. In addition to the magazine (with a first issue to publish in April), Dairy Processing will have a dedicated website, e-newsletters, and other digital products.
Closer to home, Milling & Baking News will undergo its first magazine redesign since the early 2000s. The redesign will be launched ahead of the magazine’s and the company’s 100th anniversary in 2022.
Like so many companies in the food industry, Sosland Publishing endured its share of setbacks in the year just ended, and it would be disingenuous to say our business-to-business publishing company enters 2021 without concern about the challenges that lie ahead. Still, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our remarkable staff along with the investments we have made to meet the demanding expectation of readers and advertisers, we greet 2021 resolutely committed to serving the grain-based foods and food processing industries at a higher level than ever.