Food52 Cooks Up Community For Housewares

Starting as a content-driven brand, Food52 has evolved its growth strategy into one that relies on the synergy between editorial content and commerce innovation.

Partnering with several housewares brands to create storytelling packages and negotiate exclusive products for its highly curated store put the e-commerce retailer on the map for the housewares industry. This strategy, combined with the loyal brand following it has built since its launch, created a consumer base that was ready to purchase. These efforts culminated in the launch of its own brand, Five Two, in 2018.

Now, Food52 has become a retail player that is primed for growth. According to Food52, the shop now accounts for 75% of the brand’s total revenue— about $40 million in total sales projected for 2019— and revenues from e-commerce have been averaging 50% growth year-over-year. Food52’s paid marketing spend accounts for only 5% of its commerce revenue; the rest comes organically from its highly engaged community of more than 16 million consumers.

With a fresh infusion of capital from a $83 million majority-stake purchase by TCG Capital Management, an affiliate of The Chernin Group, the company is gearing up to open new retail opportunities.

HOMEWORLD BUSINESS recently spoke with Jojo Feld, senior director of merchandising, Food52, and Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO, Food52, about the brand’s plans for growth and how the company has become one of the housewares retailers to watch going into 2020.

HomeWorld Business: Food52 has always stood out when it comes to storytelling on the product side. How important is that strategy to brand development?

Jojo Feld: As a community-driven brand, we are not a shop of “more-is-more.” We approach our commerce business the same way we do our content, aiming to create the ultimate resource for our community in their kitchens and homes. In order to achieve this, we lean into storytelling to highlight the purpose— and magic— of each product and maker we market.

As merchandisers, we lead with personal knowledge and experience, putting ourselves into the mindset of our community, before bringing products into our shop. We approach product sourcing in practical ways, first and foremost, as real people to really understand what compelling stories are behind the products and why those stories matter. This comes to life in a variety of ways, from documenting our visit to a Laguiole knife factory in the French countryside— where every knife is handmade— to taking home a new kitchen tool for dinner party prep and writing an article about its benefits.

HWB: How do you tie the product and the editorial together successfully, creating packages that the reader/consumer is drawn to?

JF: There’s an incredible amount of collaboration and open communication between our content and commerce teams. We’re looking at trends and stories together and figuring out how to tell those stories across all our many channels. There is a culture of big-dreaming and can-doing in our office that lends itself well to collaboration between our editorial, commerce and creative teams. When we get in a room together and are all excited and engaged, creating a package of stories for both our readers and shoppers is not only easy, but totally genuine.

And it’s important to note that it’s not always content driving commerce, but commerce drives content too. Sometimes our stories are inspired by our makers and their craft that we’ve fallen in love with.

HWB: You’ve grown mostly organically from the beginning. Why is this important to the brand?

JF: Our customer-centric approach has created that organic growth— the two go hand-in-hand. And with integrity— and by way of it, trust— being core to our business, it’s been essential for us to listen to and understand what our customers want and not force-feed them. This is the ethos our own line, Five Two, is built on. We’re creating products for kitchen, home and life in complete collaboration with our community.

HWB: The launch of branded goods has been a success for Food52. Why did you feel the timing was right for your own brand and how do you plan to grow it in the future?

Amanda Hesser: We had done the work of selling other brands’ products for a few years, so we had a lot of data but also got to listen to thousands of our customers— what products they wanted, what features they did and did not like, what pricepoints they were comfortable with. All of this informed our decision to start Five Two, and to us, it made perfect sense to collaborate with our community on the design of the products. We figured that if we could combine their deep knowledge and savvy with our design aesthetic and expertise, we could create a line that was truly original and super high-quality.

We started with a kitchen product, naturally— a double-sided cutting board. And we’ve since expanded to table and laundry. We’re building the assortment based on customer feedback— we’re community driven through and through.

HWB: What are your plans for the Food52 retail store? How will it enhance the shopping experience? 

AH: We’ve been talking about a Food52 brick-and-mortar presence for a while now, and we describe our vision as a “living store”— a place that’s as much a resource and community gathering place as it is a place to shop. We’ll carry a curated selection of our products and we plan to bring them to life in a way that can help people understand how they’d be additive to their own lives.

HWB: There is a lot of competition out there. How do you feel you make the Food52 experience different and unique?

AH: Many cooking and home stores feel cluttered and static. We plan to create a space that allows you to interact with the products, get them personalized, help us create new products, taste our recipes, take part in our photography and video, and also get exceptional service. We don’t know of any place that offers this now, so we’d like to be the first.