The turn of the calendar to 2022 offers an opportunity in this, our annual report to readers about the performance of the Sosland Publishing Co., to reflect on how the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic was similar to and differed from the first, and what may be expected in the new year.
From the perspective of how the company conducted its operations, the years were similar. Like 2020, the year just ended was one in which the majority of Sosland Publishing Co. activities were completed away from our offices in Kansas City. Work by the company’s editorial, design and production departments was determinedly and effectively completed remotely for a second consecutive year. How the company will operate in terms of office needs and expectations when the pandemic comes to an end is a question Sosland Publishing, like so many other businesses, continues to ponder.
Far different from a year ago were the company’s business results. Advertisers who had reduced spending during the early months of the pandemic, returned with conviction in 2021. Overall advertising sales were up 5% from 2020, led by digital sales, which jumped 16%, easily beating budgeted goals. Total sales remained modestly behind levels reached in 2019. The shift in sales to digital from print, suggested in the results, has become far more pronounced since the onset of the pandemic. This shift to digital had been occurring slowly during the mid-2010s, from 19% of total sales in 2015, to 20% in 2016 and 23% in 2017. In 2020, the digital share leapt to 35% from 27% a year earlier and reached 40% in 2021. Standing out in this regard was Food Business News. Digital sales reached 63% of the publication’s total revenues last year.
Overall digital readership continued to move upward in 2021 even after growing at an explosive rate a year earlier. Pageviews were up 6.3% companywide in 2021 (after jumping 32% in 2020), including 4.8% at bakingbusiness.com and 9.3% at foodbusinessnews.net. Average users were up 6% in 2021 after climbing 37% in 2020.
While the move toward digital from print appears to have accelerated among advertisers, a look at our readers tells a more nuanced story. Milling & Baking News in May unveiled a print magazine redesign, the first in more than a decade. In addition to concluding the time had come to refresh the publication’s look, the decision to redesign the journal was prompted by research. While bakingbusiness.com, a shared website between Milling & Baking News and Baking & Snack, continues to demonstrate a strong and growing following, annual independent analysis by Baxter Research affirmed readers continue to rely on a 100-year-old print publication as a valued resource. Data compiled in March 2021 showed 46% of readers invest at least 30 minutes reading each issue, with many spending at least 45 minutes. Eighty percent of respondents said Milling & Baking News is the “industry magazine most relied on for news and information,” highly valued for its business news and ingredient markets coverage. Importantly, the publication remains a valuable medium for advertisements, with high recall figures among readers (up to 86%) for certain specific ads.
The findings were consistent with work done in 2019 for Sosland Publishing by Cypress Research showing 78% of survey respondents expressed a preference to read Milling & Baking News either in print (46%) or both print and digital (32%), with only 22% expressing a preference for digital only. The redesign, well received by readers, eliminates outdated sections such as “Late News” (a title that never had a timely ring!) and adopts typography meant to be more contemporary and reader friendly.
While it has been 2½ years since the last June Purchasing Seminar was held in person, 2021 was the most active year for the seminar ever. Like 2020, a two-day virtual Purchasing Seminar hosted by Milling & Baking News was held and generated extraordinary interest. Registration for the four sessions was as high as 866 with attendance peaking just over 500. The figures a year earlier were 394 and 290, respectively. Additionally, a live seminar was held in Kansas City in October, following the completion of the fall harvest with attendance of 350.
Among other Sosland Publishing brands, Food Business News stood out last year for advances on the business and editorial fronts. Record revenues and operating profits were generated by the publication last year. Its website generated more than 4.7 million user sessions and 8.3 million pageviews. Editorially, FBN’s Food Entrepreneur continues to build a unique community of food industry startups and cutting-edge consumer packaged goods companies while generating reader interest across the entire span of the food industry. The new year will bring a weekly Food Entrepreneur newsletter, four print editions and two virtual events.
World Grain, which has wrestled with a global recession in capital investment in grain processing, enjoyed a rebound in 2021, exceeding its budgeted goal for the year. Its website, World-grain.com, continues building readership with 15% growth in the site’s unique visitors. The publication also produced a 125th anniversary publication during the year for the International Association of Operative Millers.
Following up on the success of its “Since Sliced Bread” podcasts, Baking & Snack took a further step in alternative media with baker video interviews that achieved success both in attracting sponsorships and readership. Launched during the year in partnership with leading baking operations experts was Pro-Tips, a production management tool for the baking professionals tasked with product development, process development and production management. A newsletter built around this concept will launch in 2022.
Meat+Poultry had among the strongest revenue rebounds from 2020, up 22% for print advertising (a faster growth rate than digital) and accelerated as the year progressed. Editorial highlights for the year included work addressing mental health challenges with particular attention given to how meat processors are grappling with the problem during the era of COVID-19.
Progress at bake magazine, a publication targeting the retail baking sector, was highlighted by the 56,000 unique visitors a month at bakemag.com, traffic levels besting the record numbers achieved in 2020. The publication generated content aimed at helping a sector of baking that continues adapting to less walk-in traffic by pivoting to e-commerce and other initiatives. In its third year, Supermarket Perimeter continues to establish itself as the comprehensive media solution across all perimeter areas of the grocery retail channel. During the fourth quarter of 2021, Supermarket Perimeter launched the industry’s only weekly newsletter focused entirely on the retail meat segment.
The performance of one of the company’s newest brands, Pet Food Processing, was a clear highlight of 2021. With revenue up sharply from 2021 and beating budget by 28%, PFP in its third year powerfully demonstrated market acceptance in this dynamic adjacency to the food and beverage industry. The publication introduced a fourth newsletter in 2021 and established itself as a leader across Sosland Publishing brands for its active and successful presence on social media.
Launched in 2021 was Dairy Processing magazine, a publication targeting senior management, marketing, research and development and operations professionals at dairy processing companies. With cover stories featuring the most prominent businesses in the industry, Dairy Processing was well received in its first year of publication and is poised to publish six times in 2022, up from four in 2021.
Amid the discrete steps each publication took to better serve its readers and customers in 2021, a company-wide initiative was launched to mark Sosland Publishing’s 100th year in business. A centennial series of special features appeared across all of the company’s publications, offering each an opportunity to share with readers reflections on the most momentous developments in their respective industries in various periods over the past century. The centennial series will continue in the new year with each publication focusing on impending transformational changes crucial for readers to track.
Between the company’s hundredth anniversary, to be marked in this journal’s March 8 issue, ambitious editorial plans for each of our publications and the triennial IBIE to be held in September for which Sosland Publishing once again will serve as the Platinum Media Sponsor and Official Media Provider, the new year brings a sense of excitement underpinned by fervent hope the disruptions precipitated by the two-year-old pandemic will finally fade into insignificance.