Digital Professional: Ollie Lloyd, chief executive, Great British Chefs

”We are interested in the margins of technology and applying the lessons and ideas from that space in the world of premium food.”

Marketing Week (MW): Can you explain the idea behind Great British Chefs (GBC)?

Ollie Lloyd (OL): We are the fastest growing food website in the UK, according to Experian. We have over 100 of Britain’s greatest chefs on the site and we are adding 50 recipes a month. At the heart of everything we do is social media. Most publications think about how the paper and print works and then the website.

We think about digital first. Everything we do is about building content that is shared, liked and talked about across all our networks. We have over 300,000 followers on Google+, 100,000 on Facebook, over 30,000 on Twitter and on Pinterest our daily reach is over 30,000. Our business model is what I would call an evolved form of brand partnership. For example, last summer we did a project with Barbour, the outdoor clothing brand, that included al fresco recipes for picnics.

MW: Marketers talk a lot about the importance of content. What does it mean for GBC?

OL: There has been too much focus on widgets – things that do things. In the end, people look at content. There are 300 million recipe searches per month globally. We always believed from the start of our business model that the problem we were addressing lay in the fact that people could not find inspiring and educational content that would help them cook more interesting food.

MW: So how does your site help them to find this content?

OL: While we are a food website, we’re actually a tech company. Behind our site are sophisticated algorithms. All our data is structured, which means we can manipulate data in different ways. We can output it to partners like Microsoft: we give Microsoft a direct feed from our site to their own, to showcase all our content on their platforms. That’s the kind of thing that most websites would have no idea how to do.

MW: Can you give an example of how these algorithms work?

OL: We have built a version of Outbrain – a database that learns the relationships between the recipes. It understands the characteristics of individual pieces of data and then shows other data based on what is relevant. If it knows that you are looking at a chicken recipe that is good for summer, it will show you other chicken recipes that are also good for summer. If you are looking at a stew, it will understand that is more appropriate for a winter’s day. And that translates into more page views.

MW: How does the database recognise different content?

OL: All content is tagged and we are then able to cross-tabulate the data. It is not purely about tags, though; it’s continually building the relationships that exists.We are seeing page view grow faster than it should, because people are staying for longer and browsing more. That is important because 60 per cent of our traffic comes from organic search. They are coming in through 26,000 different search terms a month. It is only if you let the data ‘speak’ that the right things rise to the top.

MW: An area of the site is dedicated to user-generated content sponsored by brands such as Knorr. Is there as much demand for UGC as professionally produced content?

OL: The UGC platform is us playing with technology. The site has Facebook log in, so the question is how do we use that in an engaging way to get people to share, post and comment? The Guardian has Witness, where readers upload photos, which is an amazing platform, so essentially it’s our version of that.

It is worth saying that none of the other food sites are doing this. BBC Good Food has not got it, Delia Smith has a diabolical version, Nigella Lawson does not do it nor does Jamie Oliver. We are interested in the margins of technology and applying the lessons and ideas from that space in the world of premium food.

MW: You worked for Unilever for many years – how did this inform your decision to start GBC?

OL: Unilever is one of the great training schools for marketers. If you look at my peer group, you will see they are in some incredible positions ranging from professors at the London School of Economics through to heads of marketing at PepsiCo. Unilever gives its graduate trainees a great grounding in marketing. A significant portion, after seven to 11 years, decide they do not want to stay in those brand categories, and many have headed out and done different things.

This is my third start-up. For me there is a challenge in building and creating something that is a brand and was my idea. The challenges around coming up with an idea, executing it, fundraising to enable that idea to happen, evolving and improving the business model and exiting the business is an interesting journey.

MW: Do you think your prior experience and training as a marketer has helped in developing the GBC brand?

OL: I was in a presentation the other day and a digital agency was advocating that the answer to social engagement is cats. At Unilever you learn what building a brand is about: clarity of positioning, persistence, experimentation, measurement. I think if you look at the way we built Great British Chefs, it is very consistent and clear.

The first thing we did was bring in one of the best design agencies in the country, Hat-trick, to create our brand logo. That logo has not changed a pixel – it was perfect when it was designed and it remains perfect today. That is the kind of consistency Unilever teaches you.

MW: What are your next plans for GBC?

OL: Some of the things we are currently experimenting with are our next platforms, and adding more cuisines. Great British Chefs was our first one and Great French Chefs and Great Indian Chefs will be our second and third. We will add other cuisines to our portfolio so there is even more content on our platform. Our consistency of brand vision and brand extensions is also classic Unilever thinking. In terms of partnerships, we have gone beyond food brands. Before, the obvious brands came to us – Tesco, Kikkoman, Davidstow Cheddar. What has happened over time is that lifestyle brands have realised we have a premium audience and we are engaged in an area with massive passion that they would like a part of. We have started working with Coutt’s doing exclusive dinners for them. It is digital and experiential and all based on customer relationship management, targeting their most valuable customers.

Luxury advertising is a club. We are equivalent to Esquire or GQ in men’s magazines. It is very interesting that if you think about the food market, why is it that it is populated by the equivalents of FHM or Loaded, but nobodyhad built a GQ or Esquire? 

Interview by Michael Barnett

Ollie Lloyd, CV

2010 – present 
Chief executive, Great British Chefs

2006 – 2011
Non-executive director and founder, Creamer & Lloyd

2005 – 2006
Inventor, ?What If! (management consultancy)

2004 – 2005
Regional brand manager, Lux Asia, Unilever

2001 – 2004 
Customer marketing manager, Unilever North America

1999 – 2001
Brand Manager, Jif and Persil, Unilever UK

Econsultancy Intelligence


David Moth
Deputy editor

Breaking the YouTube barrier

Food is innately linked to social occasions and also gives people an opportunity to show off their skills and creativity, so it’s no wonder that the culinary arts have proven to be such a popular topic on social networks.

Alongside homeware and fashion, food and drink is consistently one of the most popular genres on Pinterest, but new foodie brands are also making big strides on YouTube. Chefs and food brands have been at the forefront of innovation with online video, earning lucrative sponsorship deals off the back of their audiences.

Data published in 2013 by OpenSlate Studios showed that the most popular food and drink brands on YouTube have an average subscriber rate second only to the technology sector.

Though Great British Chefs has solid numbers on nearly all social media sites, YouTube is the one channel where it could push harder. Thus far, it has attracted 1,600 subscribers with more than 170 videos, though some of the brand’s ‘How to’ clips have proven to be more popular, with a tutorial showing how to prepare a lobster gaining nearly 70,000 views.

So what can GBC do to raise the profile of its YouTube channel? Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is the obvious example to follow. His Food Tube channel has over 750,000 subscribers, though he had the benefit of an established brand name and a huge production budget to get started.

Instead, GBC might look to gain inspiration from Sorted Food. While GBC has almost double the number of fans on Facebook and more than three times as many on Google+, and is virtually neck-and-neck on Twitter, Sorted has gained huge popularity on YouTube due in part to its focus on driving conversations around recipe ideas. Subscribers are encouraged to ask questions and give suggestions on what recipes the hosts should feature on their show.

Sorted’s blend of friendly chit-chat and useful recipe tips has attracted more than 720,000 subscribers. Another important part of the channel’s appeal is that it uploads new videos every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, which means fans know when to check for new content.

An Australian food show featuring the One Pot Chef could also serve as food for thought.

It features simple recipe ideas presented by David Chilcott, who turned his passion for food into a successful business and now publishes his own range of digital cookbooks. Chilcott uploads new videos three times a week and encourages his followers to comment and contribute their own ideas. Despite having a limited budget and no celebrity support, the One Pot Chef has attracted more than 165,000 subscribers.



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