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Magazines create movements

Editorial director Jo Rees reveals how the creation Food Magazine has supported the vibrant food community for two decades 

You launched Food Magazine two decades ago this month. How did it come into being? 

We’d come back from Australia – where I’d started the BBC’s magazines business – and were looking at starting a speciality coffee business in the UK. Amid the process of finding premises and learning how to start a business, I took on some marketing training work to earn some money. 

My brief was to teach food and drink businesses how to market themselves (my background was in marketing and publishing at the BBC). I realised I could teach people the skills but if they didn’t have much of a budget they couldn’t make a lot of noise, so I suggested that a solution would be to design and launch a ‘local food’ magazine that would promote the food businesses, and from which the whole food community would benefit. There was nothing like it in the UK at the time and the team at the project liked the idea and said they would support it with some advertising. The whole thing had legs from the start, and when the building we were looking to lease for our coffee business fell through, we took it as a sign that this was the direction we should follow. I’m so glad we did. 

It can’t have been easy? 

Of course, in getting Food Magazine off the ground we encountered some naysayers, as anyone who has started a business will relate to: some people just don’t get what you’re trying to do. We were told by various parties that “people don’t care about local food”, “there aren’t enough good food and drink companies to justify a magazine” and “there aren’t any good places to eat out”. We knew that wasn’t true, which is what gave us the confidence to launch the magazine.  

The first couple of issues were created in our spare bedroom by two of us, sharing a single phone and laptop, plus a freelance designer. We had a passionate belief that by promoting the South West’s food and drink businesses we could help protect our shared food culture from being dismantled by multinational corporations with no interest other than short-term profits. 

Twenty years on, I’m happy to say we’ve stayed true to our original vision of telling the world about the region’s best food and drink experiences. Food magazine doesn’t cover property, weddings, interiors or cars; we focus entirely on showcasing the very best independent companies creating high-quality food, drink and hospitality in the South West. 

How many people share the laptop now? 

We’re now a 17-strong team of writers, designers and marketing specialists publishing a range of magazines, guides, websites and content that covers a diverse range of subjects including food, coffee, wine, the environment, adventure and travel. Happily, everyone has their own PC and phone!  

Eleven years ago we launched the Food Reader Awards. Awards are a brilliant way of getting publicity for restaurants, cafes, hotels, producers and farmers and, as an editorial team, we love to see who our readers vote for – it’s given us some great tip-offs on hidden gems. We’re in the market of finding special experiences and getting quality businesses in front of supportive and interested consumers who are looking for special foodie things to do, places to stay, and things to eat and drink that are rooted in authenticity and sustainability. We held the latest Food Reader Awards ceremony just this week. 

What’s been a key takeaway from two decades of Food Magazine? 

A key lesson – through the ups and downs of various boom times, recessions, and the occasional global pandemic – has been the importance of businesses working together and supporting each other. It’s a fantastic industry to be part of as it’s filled with creative and inspiring people with great passion for what they do, but the sector has experienced tough times – right now it faces huge challenges due to a Brexit-induced recruitment crisis along with food and energy price hikes. Because of this, it was so powerful to feel the pride and determination coming through at the Food Reader Awards ceremony. The event provided a much-needed shot of positivity for the industry at a difficult time and everyone was resolute in the belief that, while the year ahead looks to be difficult, pulling together is the best way for independent businesses to survive. 

Our readers are serious about supporting the South West’s food and drink industry too. The votes are cast by them and this year individual votes numbered over 100,000. That’s a lot of people championing local producers, restaurants and hotels. 

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