Tasty idea: A robust community for online

By Stanley Schwartz

Dan Hammond, the visionary who brought you American Profile, has embarked on another venture – one he wants to share with community newspapers everywhere.

About three months ago his company launched Just A Pinch Recipe Club, an online recipe exchange site.

“This site give access to thousands of recipes to folks who want to share their recipes” said Hammond, who sold Publishing Group of America in 2007 and then launched American Hometown Publishing. Since then, he has increased the company to 13 community newspapers.

While still with PGA, Hammond said the company started Relish, a food magazine for newspapers. It was through this publication that he learned the value of reader-generated recipes. Even after he moved into the community newspaper field, Hammond said he continued to see the value of those recipes.

To help other community newspapers, Hammond said he would provide a free, weekly syndicated column in a PDF, two-column layout.

The column, penned by Janet Tharpe, features complete recipes supplied by the website's members.

“It's free for publishers to use,” Hammond said, adding that, “they only have to acknowledge that we own it.” Publishers can also access the archived columns to retrieve any number of recipes. The PDFs also come in various sizes that fit most newspaper column widths.

In addition to the syndicated column, Hammond will also supply stories about club members who receive a blue ribbon from Tharpe. She operates a test kitchen where all recipes are evaluated and some are prepared. Those that are deemed outstanding receive the blue ribbon designation on the club site. Hammond said his staff prepares a story and sends it along with the person's photo and recipe to that person's hometown paper.

“After receiving the story, one paper said, `That's great,' but it wanted to do its own story ,” he said. “It ended up as a front-page story.”

For newspapers with tight budgets, Hammond noted, this would make a great feature for which they don't have to pay.

“I know most community papers don't want to use syndicated content,” he said, “but this is recipes from their readers.“

To test out the column, Hammond offered it to the 13 papers in his group. So far, response had been better than he hoped.

Scott Whaley, publisher of Chester County Independent in Henderson, Tenn., started using the syndicated column three months ago when it first became available.

He liked it so much that he became a member of the site. “I added about seven or eight recipes,” Whaley said. “And I'm not much of a cook.”

Soon after, he started receiving comments from other site members, who made suggestions on how to improve some of his recipes.

He decided to get everyone in his office involved, and hold a Just A Pinch lunch party. People brought in their prepared recipes and then entered them in a contest. The local police chief and mayor were among the judges. Prizes were awarded and Whaley said everyone had a great time.

“This is the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else,” he said. His wife was in the grocery store and overheard other shoppers commenting about the syndicated column. “She overheard one of the women say that she liked the column and signed up on the site.”

Whaley, who started work at the Chester County Independent when he was 6 years old, said he thought the idea would just simmer for a little while, but it has really taken off.

So how does Hammond intend to make a profit from this site? It comes from those who register to use it. The site has two free membership options and a premium level that costs $3.49 a month.

It's a robust site, Hammond said, and was developed to be as easy to use as Facebook. Users are guided every step of the way when submitting recipes.

Although users who register as guests or friends have free access to much of the site, Hammond said he believes most people will want to join at the premium level.

In addition to the recipe exchange, they have access to an integrated recipe box organizer, a meal planner and a shopping list generator. They also receive by e-mail up to $5 in coupons each week. They also get a free club apron and a 20 percent discount at the club's store.

“Say you have some rice, some green peppers and chicken,“ Hammond said. “You can plug those ingredients into the site and all the recipes with those ingredients will come up.” Premium level users can also upload all the items they have in their pantry and when choosing a recipe, the site will generate a shopping list for them and even tie to available coupons.

“It can plan out your meals from what you have on hand,” he added. “It's a lot of fun.”

© Stanley Schwartz 2010

Stanley Schwartz is the managing editor of Publisher’s Auxiliary NNA. You can contact him at stan@nna.org.

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