Making Room at the Table For Your Food Story

According to Plunkett research, the food and beverage industry is expected to top $7.6 trillion this year. This robust market gives PR pros pitching food and beverage stories many opportunities to reach consumers—along with plenty of competition when it comes to story placement.

There are enough food publications for any appetite, and PR professionals are salivating at the opportunity to see their client on the glossy pages of Bon Appetit or Saveur. With so many cooks in the kitchen, how do you stand out from the rest?

For that, we went straight to the source and asked Los Angeles-based writer, Javier Cabral. An East Los Angeles native, Cabral has been writing about food in some capacity for years, first as the young Teenage Glutster and most recently as the West Coast food editor at Vice. He now freelances for the LA Times, among other publications. His insights below:

What do you look for when weeding through story pitches and considering publication?

When I worked at Vice, I would get upwards of 50 pitches a day. One thing that would always stop me from hitting delete: when I would open an email and be able to tell immediately that a PR person actually read my articles. There are far too many general pitches these days. Pitches, in my experience, need to be fine-tuned for the publication and for the writer. Especially, when it comes to food. The food market is so competitive and saturated. My advice is to make it really easy for the writer—provide the dots for the writer to connect—and customize.

How do you prefer to receive a pitch?

Send your pitch via email. Or if we happen to meet in person—if we’re at an event together or elsewhere—feel free to bring up your story idea casually in conversation. I’ve seen a lot of writers get annoyed at PR people calling them out of the blue in the middle of really busy days. I prefer a good, customized email pitch.

How do you feel the food media landscape is changing?

For one thing, there’s a lot more video. Food videos are dominating the media landscape. Everything is geared towards readers with a shorter attention span, so most video content is only 10 or 15 seconds long. As far as writing goes, there are certain cookie cutter headlines that food writers are sticking to these days. Writing is becoming a lot more formulaic and mathematical; there’s a lot more sponsored content, and you won’t get called out working with a particular brand for money.

'My advice is to make it really easy for the writer—provide the dots for the writer to connect—and customize.'Click To Tweet

What do you think of the emergence of Yelp? Do you think it has helped or hurt businesses? Has it made the food critic obsolete?

I’ve definitely heard a lot more chefs say that Yelp is hurting their business than helping it– for every nine chefs that hate it, maybe one chef loves it. As far as its significance in the world of food media, everyone is a critic these days, but not everybody has the ability to think analytically and critically the way food writers do. At the end of the day, food writers have more experience than a Yelper who writes a review about his cold sandwich at lunch. Food writing is more of a craft, while Yelping is more of a hobby.

When deciding whether or not to attend an event on behalf of a brand, what do you look for?

First, I look to see if I can actually make it to the event based on time and distance, especially living in a city like L.A.. I look for things that make the trip easy—transportation back and forth, parking, things like that. In terms of the event itself, keep it a little more intimate and special for the writers—somewhere between 8 and 12 guests. Otherwise, it can get a bit competitive, and your media guests may get nervous about giving away their story angles to other attendees. I’ve also heard writers complain about meal portion size. If you’re going to do a media event, do it right and go all in.

What new food trends have you seen emerge this year?

The fast-casual concept continues to dominate. Minimum wage is continuing to go up and we are seeing high quality food in minimalistic atmospheres. You see far fewer white tablecloths these days, and that’s because if restaurants can clear away servers, they can cut out significant overheard.  We’re also seeing a lot more seafood—a lot of poke and a lot of authoritative plant-based food— I wouldn’t call them vegan restaurants, but restaurants that specialize in vegetables. Finally, there’s an emerging trend of venture capitalist investors trying their hand at disrupting certain restaurant standards. Shake Shack and Sweetgreen are perfect examples. They’re run almost like startups, with investments from deep pocketed investors.

What food trends do you expect to see more of/emerge in 2018?

I expect to see more robots and machines taking the place of cashiers at fast food restaurants. I also expect we’ll see more plant-based food offerings and health-conscious restaurants.  Even McDonald’s is using cage-free eggs in their breakfast offerings. When it reaches McDonald’s, it’s no longer a trend, but a reality.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, and what makes them so special to you?

Guelaguetza in Koreatown is one of my go-to spots. The food is so authentic and wholesome, you can taste the soul in it. Customers are a mix of hipsters, Oaxacans and Koreans, and I love the diversity. I also love Chego! in Chinatown. Getting a great lunch for $10 is getting harder and harder these days, but I can’t resist the strong flavors—the garlic and the crispiness of the pork belly they serve. And the best fried chicken in L.A. in my opinion is at Tokyo Fried Chicken. This place is amazing—it’s run by a Japanese-American chef who has created a hybrid of traditional southern fried chicken and Japanese chicken. And he serves it with sides like soy-glazed yams and dashi braised collard greens. It doesn’t taste like fusion—it just tastes so right.

Keep an eye out for more delicious content from Javier in the LA Times and other outlets.

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