Shy, quiet and leading a community around 1 million people strong

Aug 27, 2020

To get a grip on the scale of Pinch of Nom’s success, consider this:

When Jamie Oliver’s latest book, 7 Ways, shot to number one in the UK Official Top 50 book charts last week, it sold 34,241 copies according to Nielsen BookScan TCM.

When Pinch of Nom’s debut book 100 Slimming, Home-Style Recipes launched back in March 2019, it sold more than six times that amount – 210,000 copies – in just three days. It’s still the fastest-selling non-fiction book since records began, and has now sold over 1,244,000 copies, to a value of over £12.5m.

Their second cookbook, Pinch of Nom: Everyday Light (published in December 2019) has enjoyed similarly impressive sales and many months after publication, both titles remain in the top 15 Amazon bestsellers list.  

It’s been a proper whirlwind for the women behind the phenomenon, Kay Featherstone and Kate Allinson, who ran a restaurant together on the Wirral before moving into the world of food writing.

Here, Kay speaks to Kristen Frederickson about what it takes to run a community like Pinch of Nom, and how their work has changed since the cookbooks’ success.


Were you taken aback by the success? 

We’ve been working on Pinch of Nom for just over four years now, so although a lot of people see us as an overnight success, we’ve been working hard on this for a long time. However, the response to the book was totally unexpected and has taken us completely out of our comfort zone. I think success looks very different from person to person, but for us it’s continuing to make people happy by giving them affordable recipes that are easy to make. 

What did it take to get the Pinch of Nom website up and running in the first place?

I had created a couple of blogs using Wordpress for the company I used to work for, so getting the website for Pinch of Nom up and running wasn’t that difficult. I bought a domain, googled everything, and drank a LOT of coffee. I definitely pulled more than a few late nights building the site at the beginning! 

Was it a steep learning curve?

We had to learn how to do everything very quickly. Not only were we writing recipes for a wide range of abilities, we also had to teach ourselves how to work with SEO, how to do food photography, and even how to edit videos. YouTube and Google were our teachers. 

Writing all the recipes was a new experience for us. When you write recipes for your friends you know what their level of cookery skill is. It’s a whole different ballgame to write recipes for an online audience! We learned quickly not to be too technical or overly cheffy. 

What, if anything, did you find you needed help with? 

Nowadays we have a lot more help. In the beginning it was just the two of us, and now we employ a team of people to help the business run smoothly. It’s helped dramatically; we can’t be good at everything and there aren’t unlimited hours in the day to learn new skills! One of the things we needed help with was photography. It wasn’t our greatest strength, so now we outsource it. We do still make and edit our own videos, though, and we’re always learning in the process. 

Your social media following has been such a crucial part of Pinch of Nom. Can you tell us about the process of growing that platform?

Not long after we launched the Pinch of Nom website, we created a private Facebook group. This was a space where people could ask us questions about recipes and cooking. We wanted the group to be a safe place for members, away from ‘diet shaming’. We wanted it to be somewhere people could share their journeys and ask questions that they perhaps couldn’t ask their friends. 

The group grew in size and got very busy, but it took time. I remember celebrating 100 members, and then 200, 300, 100, 5000… we now have nearly one million people in our community. The group sees nearly 250,000 comments a day! It’s a lot to keep on top of and we have an amazing team of moderators who help to keep it a safe and positive environment for everybody. It certainly wasn’t an overnight success – we used to (and still sometimes) work 100-hour weeks. We just kept going; if something didn’t work then we’d try it a different way.

What guides you in running Pinch of Nom on a day-to-day basis? 

The Pinch of Nom community has always been at the forefront of everything we do. We listen to their suggestions and comments and tweak things based on their feedback. The books, the two planners, the podcast, the free recipes that go up on the website every week – everything we do has been done because the community has asked for it. 

What’s it been like to branch out into new areas like your podcast The Magic Ingredient?

Since Pinch of Nom has become more popular, we get asked to do a lot of things, but we’re not the type of people to say yes to everything. Pinch of Nom is all about the food, and not necessarily about us. We are pretty shy and quiet people and doing things like the podcast with the BBC has been so much fun, but also way out of our comfort zone. We were travelling down to London each week, on top of the recipe development and coming up with questions to ask our guests.

What did a typical day look like before the book topped the charts, and what does a typical day look like now?

Day to day, things haven’t changed for us much since the success of the books. We have an office now (although we are working from home at the moment due to COVID) and more meetings in the diary. We try our best to look ahead, and plan more for the future. For the first time ever we’re working on Christmas recipes in July, and not rushing to get them done in November! 

And just out of curiosity – what are your favourite cookbooks?

For me it has to be How to Eat by Nigella Lawson, but we often cook recipes from Ottolenghi, Diana Henry, and Sabrina Ghayour too! We love to cook from an array of recipe books, cultures, and cuisines, so it’s hard to narrow it down.

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