Now that winter has come to an end, I can’t stop thinking about the fact I have been out of school for a year. Although I know I am still young, and in retrospect a year isn’t that long, I can’t help but reminisce on the times I spent hanging out with friends, ordering late night eats, and debating if I should set my alarm for class the next morning (sorry mom!) I am not usually one for nostalgia, but looking back on my four years at Penn reminded me to check out one of my favorite publications, spoonuniversity.com.
Spoon University, which was started by two Northwestern graduates, Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler, is a student-run publication created to share recipes, health and lifestyle stories, restaurant reviews, and other food related content to millennials and college students all across the country. With endless food related publications out there; my question is, how did Spoon University grow to attract 4 million unique visitors per month, partner with over 150 college campuses across the country, and get 3,000 plus students to actively contribute year round?
First of all, Spoon University has a very specific target audience: millennials. The initial idea for Spoon University was created because Barth and Adler (millennials themselves) both struggled with cooking and meal time throughout college. Targeting millennials made it easy for the founders to relate to their audience, and gave SpoonU a large enough fan base to really take off.
Second of all, while there are a ton of other foodie publications on the web, Spoon University has a pretty unique business model that has helped differentiate it, and keep it successful. Rather than the two founders coming up with all the content on their own, each school participating has their own “chapter,” which is run by independent groups at each college or university. Not only does this model give each writer freedom to do their own thing, it keeps Spoon University’s content diverse. Barth and Adler knew that “food was becoming a much bigger conversation at college,” they knew students would want to “create things, and leave their own personal imprint,” which is exactly what Spoon University allows them to do. Now, students around the country are actually willing to pay a membership fee to write articles, eager to get their knowledge on food out into the world.
Third of all, the relaxed environment Spoon University created has paid off big time. Spoon University keeps their atmosphere casual by not enforcing harsh deadlines or putting pressure on students to write an unrealistic amount of articles per month. In many ways, Spoon University has become a living example of what nearly every millennial “employee” would suggest: no real boss, flexible hours, and a way to get their voice out there. While most companies are just realizing these trends, the founders of Spoon University took them as truths from the beginning and were able to formulate a great business model around it.
The final aspect that has kept Spoon University so successful is that it spans all social channels. What started as a simple website is now spread across Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and even snapchat. By creating a platform that easily spreads across all networks Spoon University has been able to continue to grow and expand their content from online articles to short video tutorials, live stream recipe creations, and more.
From a culinary marketing standpoint, Spoon University has done a good job. They targeted a specific but large audience, came up with a unique and strategic business model that also appeals to their audience, and found creative ways to expand on all social channels; which is why their popularity continues to climb.