Don’t you just love those stories of friends who came together, started a business and changed the world? Us too. And that’s exactly what happened with SORTEDfood - the super successful YouTube franchise that is watched by millions.
Oh, and Barack Obama and Britney Spears even follow them on Twitter. Yes, these guys are big news.
Here at Compelo, we wanted to find out why their business model is so mind-blowingly successful. And how it is disrupting the food industry and changing it for the better.
How did four friends from Hertfordshire amass a business, a team, 1.7 million YouTube subscribers and over 250 million video views?
We spoke to Jamie Spafford, one quarter of SORTEDfood (alongside Ben Ebbrell, Barry Taylor and Mike Huttlestone) to find out more.
You have worked on some amazing, high-profile projects – which ones have been your favourites?
Wow, where to start? We’ve been lucky to work on so many exciting projects and it’s really hard to narrow it down to just one or two.
Something that is really close to our hearts is through our partnership with Co-op on Now Cook It. This is a free online cooking course to help address the cooking skills gap that has been getting bigger and bigger in the UK and beyond.
SORTEDfood came about because our mate Ben – now a trained chef – had to essentially teach me, Mike and Barry how to boil an egg. We were frankly useless at cooking. But he showed us the benefits of giving it a go and ultimately how much fun it can be. Now we want to inspire as many people as possible to get into the kitchen and get cooking, hence our YouTube channel and the Now Cook It platform.
Research shows there’s been a 54% decrease in home cooking in the last 30 years. Also, young people are unable to cook a week’s worth of meals. Those are shocking stats and we want to play our part in helping to close that skills gap by showing people of all ages what they’re missing out on.
Another firm favourite of mine is our FridgeCam show that dominates our YouTube channel four times a week. It covers everything from myth busting, to our top cooking tips and the often highly competitive food battles. We’ve done two series now and are filming the third, which is set to be even bigger and better!
What are the funniest moments you’ve had on set?
To be honest, most days are spent rolling around in laughter. We’ve all been mates since school. We are all so comfortable with each other and so in-tune that it’s very rare for one of us not to be mucking about or playing some sort of prank.
One stand out moment had to be whilst filming a food-related parody music video for a large YouTube campaign. It was late on a Friday night, in our brand new studio we had only moved into that week. The production team promised us that the dry ice would not set off the smoke alarms…They were wrong! Cue some angry phone calls from the landlord and hastily cancelled fire engines! That video went on to be played at the O2 ahead of one of the final One Direction concerts - so not a total waste!
Who are your biggest celebrity fans/followers?
We’ve had a fair few familiar faces on the show over the years, from some of the world’s biggest YouTubers, to the likes of Joe Wicks, Tom Daley and Paloma Faith. We’re also followed on Twitter by Barack Obama and Britney Spears if that counts?!
A few years ago we helped Jamie Oliver launch his YouTube channel, including a spoof that he featured in! We also recently worked with his team on his CEO CookOff, which was a massive evening of cooking, fundraising and feasting. He is such an inspiration for so many people and he never stops - it’s amazing to watch!
Your audience are heavily involved in the content you produce. What is your advice for getting a highly engaged audience?
For us, we have a real personal connection with our audience. We are very lucky in that we’ve built up a following that loves what we do. But we’ve only managed to achieve that by being ourselves, and importantly listening to the audience and giving them the type of content they want.
A lot of chefs will tell you that their way is the only way. We simply don’t agree with that. We don’t pretend that it’s the way you must do things – that isn’t the point of what we do.
Everyone has to eat, and we know that even if they can’t cook, most people are passionate about the food they consume. So what we do is open up that conversation and allow people to tap into cooking in a way they haven’t been able to do before.
That’s why we encourage feedback from our audiences. We want them to tell us what they think and we adapt what we do to reflect that. They tell us what they struggle with, what sorts of meals they want us to include in Now Cook It or on our YouTube channel and we make it happen.
So, the relationship we have with our audience is incredibly important to us. They need to trust us, but also feel like they are a part of SORTEDfood and can have an impact on what we do. If the audience stops enjoying what you’re producing then you’re not going to grow. You can risk losing them entirely.
What do you think is the future of the food industry?
For me, and I know the other guys would go along with this too, it has to be about getting more people into cooking. There is a problem with young people not having the basic skills and not having a batch of recipes at their disposal.
That’s our mission – giving people the tools they need to inspire them to cook. We started out just making stupid videos for our friends, but as we’ve grown we’ve been struck by the depth of the problem in the UK and beyond. I guess that’s why SORTEDfood has become a movement of people that are filling the education gap.
Hopefully we’re inspiring lots of people to give it a go themselves, and having a laugh along the way.
Why do you think the SORTEDfood videos resonate so well with the American audience?
I think for the same reason that they resonate with UK and other international audiences: We don’t take ourselves too seriously and don’t lecture people on food. Myself and the guys just try and have fun with what we do and open up the conversation.
We got to appear regularly on US TV a couple of years ago - spending three months travelling around that great country with a weekly slot on the TODAY Show, documenting our experiences. Luckily for us, we met so many amazing people who love their food and take pride in what it represents for them.
We want to tap into that passion and get people who have never embraced cooking before to give it a go without the fear of doing something wrong. We mess up all the time – it’s about having a crack and not fearing the outcomes. That’s no different whether you’re in New York or Yorkshire.
See more of SORTEDfood on their YouTube channel.