Erin Penor has only been food blogging for a year, but she’s already hungry for more.
The Lake Stevens mom-turned-food blogger started Whoolly Delicious Dishes in July 2012, documenting her efforts to wean her family off of quick and convenient processed foods.
A year and dozens of recipes later, she’s extended her blog presence to Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. What started out as a hobby has evolved into a nearly full-time job. And it’s gotten her entrepreneurial wheels turning.
“I want to grow my blog and gain a bigger audience. I like writing, that comes fairly easy. Now I want to focus a little more on the photography,” said Penor. “And if it makes money, that would be great!”
Penor has good company in the popular food blogging niche. She joined 320 food bloggers from across the continent who attended the 2013 International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) in Seattle last weekend. Now in its fifth year, the annual three-day conference focuses on the latest trends in food, writing and technology, bringing together food bloggers and connecting them with writers, publishers, media professionals and marketers in the food industry.
The conference draws bloggers and writers from all walks of life: the beginner, the seasoned, the professional who does it on the side, to the traditional cookbook author/food writer looking to transition into another aspect of the food industry. Unlike larger food blogging conventions, which can draw attendees into the thousands, IFBC provides an intimate setting for bloggers to meet other participants, discuss their craft and digest all the rich material (and food) the conference has to offer.
The long list of speakers included several luminaries in the food world. Dorie Greenspan, author of 10 cookbooks (Desserts by Pierre Herme, Around My French Table) and winner of six James Beard awards, kicked the conference off as the keynote speaker. Renowned New York Times food photographer Andrew Scrivani returned by popular demand to share his A-Zs of digital food photography. Chef John Mitzewich of Food Wishes gave another lively and humorous cooking demonstration, this time preparing raw salmon recipes.
Bloggers searching for more instruction on how to develop their creativity and writing attended sessions by cookbook author/journalist Kim O’Donnel (The Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations) or Cynthia Lair and Matt Smith of Cookus Interruptus. For those heading in a more entrepreneurial direction, sessions with AllRecipes, WordPress and Google+ addressed the elements of building blogs as a business, addressing topics such as building traffic, blog design and understanding and utilizing social media.
But the real star of the show is the food. From artisan olive oils to Bordeaux wines to scallop and bacon sliders on a Brioche buns, bloggers sampled, photographed, blogged or tweeted dozens of gourmet goodies at every seeming hour. For Saturday night’s dinner, IFBC organizers forewent the big group meal and instead partnered with Urbanspoon, which organized 25 small group dinners at the city’s top restaurants, each with its own tasting menu and opportunity to chat with the chef. Anyone monitoring the twittersphere could see the flood of photos and tweets of the #Spoondinner eating revelry that took place that night.
Eating aside, IFBC organizers have noticed the changing appetites of food bloggers as they adapt to mercurial changes in technology and the rising awareness of the relationship between food and health.
"When we announced our gluten-free sessions, there was a cheer in the room," said Barnaby Dorfman, co-founder of Seattle-based Foodista, which organizes IFBC. "The first year of the conference, there were one or two gluten-free bloggers; it wasn't really an issue. The second, we had the blogger Gluten-Free Girl speak. This year, the ethical treatment of animals is something we had an element of, along with the issue of non-GMO foods. It's the continued sophistication of the organic/non-GMO discussion."
Readers now can choose among a sea of blogs dedicated to gluten-free cooking, precipitated by the growing number of people diagnosed with food allergies or Celiac Disease. Penor said six months after she started her blog, her 8-year-old son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, narrowing her focus to gluten-free, organic and nutritious meals for the family on the go.
“My generation, we ate all processed foods,” said Penor. “Now I just want to feed my kids as healthy as I can.”
Organizers also say food bloggers are getting more serious about making their sites profitable.
"One of the things we really noticed last year and continuing this year is bloggers’ openness to sponsors and the relationship between the two," said Sheri Wetherell, co-founder of Foodista. "At our first conference, bloggers didn’t want to hear any sales pitches. Bloggers now want to monetize their blogs and make a living.”
According to a 2013 Foodista survey, 62% of nearly 700 food bloggers said they made no money from their blogs, and 24% made less than $200 a month. Despite this, Dorfman and Wetherell say interest in the food blogging niche continues to grow. This year’s conference had 320 participants, nearly double last year, and sold out in three months. Another 150 were on the waiting list, likely local bloggers who lost out to out-of-town bloggers who secured their spots early.
But good news for local foodies who missed out this year. While past IFBC conference have been held in Portland, New Orleans and Santa Monica, Dorfman and Wetherell plan to host the 2014 conference in their hometown of Seattle again.
“We’re Seattle folks and we have strong connections here to the food community,” said Wetherell. “It’s just an amazing food town.”
The 2014 IFBC Conference will be held September 19-21 at The Westin Seattle. Go to Foodista.com for more information on the 2014 IFBC Conference.