How social-food publisher Twisted expanded into brand content and commerce

Twisted, the food brand from social publisher Jungle Creations, launched in 2016 posting simple recipe videos on Facebook. Now it’s broadened its products and diversified its revenue mix by doing more brand content and commerce, becoming the playbook for how the media company plans to develop its six other brands.

“Five years ago [Jungle Creations] had one source of revenue: Driving traffic from Facebook to our site,” said Jamie Bolding, founder and CEO at the media company. “Now we have several, even dozens, that puts us in a position of power and strength. As the ecosystem around us gets more competitive, publishers can win if they can structure the business correctly.”

Twisted is profitable, although Bolding wouldn’t disclose how long this has been the case, and generated £3 million ($3.94 million) in revenue in 2019. It’s the company’s second-highest earning brand after VT, which predominantly earns revenue through programmatic and platform advertising.

“Media companies in the social era struggle with profitability,” said Bolding. “To reach that level you have to truly embrace three revenue streams of media, marketing and commerce.”

Branded content was Twisted’s sole revenue stream two years ago. Now, roughly 50% of Twisted’s revenue now comes from branded content partnerships, 30% from platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, and 20% from its DTC efforts, according to the company. These include its 36 delivery-only restaurants, recently-launched kitchenware products and a cookbook coming out in April. The launch of Twisted Studio in food hall Market Halls, London, last month, gives restaurant-goers a window into Twisted’s filming (although it isn’t serving food) and could double-up as an event space down the line.

Twisted embraced DTC two years ago through the launch of its first delivery-only restaurant in London. Since then, Jungle Creation’s commerce team has grown to 10 people who manage partnerships, quality control and customer service. It also works with shipping and fulfillment parents in other countries to manage delivery.

Whether Twisted’s fanbase is loyal enough to purchase branded wooden spoons is yet to be proven out, said Bolding. The company was unwilling to share details of how well the kitchenware is selling. The purpose of starting its merch line with fairly commonplace products was so that Twisted can include them in its recipe videos, which in November fetched 175 million views across Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, according to Tubular Labs.

While a lot of DTC companies take a hit on margins for paid-for social advertising, marketing platforms which are reaching saturation point for these types of businesses, Twisted’s own videos are a way to shop its wares with its organic reach.

Social video food brands are fertile ground for diversification into DTC revenue lines. BuzzFeed’s Tasty has delved into product licensing with brands like Nestle and McCormick, and it anticipates generating $260 million in sales of BuzzFeed-branded products in retail this year. Tastemade is publishing cookbooks and selling skillets, the latter generating $600,000 in revenue for the publisher.

Twisted content has evolved too during this time too. This year on Facebook, the food vertical has uploaded a lot more videos between two and 15-minutes long, an increase of 268% compared with 2018, (per Tubular) reaching the three-minute-long threshold so it can insert mid-roll ads. The channel is diversifying away from hands-in-pans videos to more character-led, longer-form features, whether that’s with celebrity guests, like “Hangin’ with…” musician Lewis Capaldi, or its Twisted talent-led franchise, “Cooking with”.

The content has also expanded beyond the popular trio of meat, burgers and cheese videos which made up over half the videos uploaded and viewed in 2018. However, the top three most popular videos over the last 30 days, by views, by category, are about candy, seafood and mushrooms, according to Tabular data.

Over the last six months, the company has shifted how it approaches three business models of media, marketing and commerce, breaking them out of silos and into a matrix model organized around its seven brands, so the whole company is focused on driving towards the same goals. To do this effectively has meant changing employee targets.

“It’s really about the structure,” said Bolding. “We’re selling the products that we put in videos, but the media team was previously focussed on driving platform revenues rather than product sales. By changing that mind frame through targets and a matrix approach they can fully embrace that.”

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