How Sorted became one of YouTube’s biggest food channels

Founded by a group of school friends while at university, Sorted is now one of the most popular food channels on YouTube. In this extract from our February issue, co-founder Jamie Spafford explains how using humour, listening to viewers and reacting to trends have been key to its success

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In 2015, the number of food-related videos uploaded to YouTube increased by 58%. Food and cooking is now one of the fastest growing genres on the site and the UK posts more food content than any other country (37,000 videos last year).

Most of the UK’s major supermarkets now have their own YouTube channels – some with hundreds of thousands of subscribers – but even non-food brands are looking to team up with successful creators on the site. Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube has created videos in partnership with LV= insurance as well as Uncle Ben’s and Hellman’s Mayonnaise.

One of the most popular food channels on the platform is Sorted, which posts easy-to-follow recipes for sweet treats, meals to share and ‘epic’ takes on classic dishes. Its success is built on engaging with viewers, reacting to food trends and creating professional videos interspersed with some friendly banter.

Childhood friends Jamie Spafford, Barry Taylor, Mike Huttlestone and Ben Ebbrell founded Sorted in 2010, while studying at university (Ebbrell is the only trained chef).

“After going our separate ways to uni we realised that on the whole, we were all terrible at cooking,” says Spafford, a marketing graduate. “We started to share the few tips, tricks and recipes that we did have between us to help each other out. Ben was training to be a chef, so he had a few more than the rest of us combined! We started Sorted as a way of trying to share those recipes with more people,” he explains.

The group self-published a cook book and toured universities but after limited success, decided to focus on YouTube instead. “It was a lot of hard work and involved a lot of travelling to realise that students didn’t have money for cookbooks. The videos meant that we could reach more people in one go and focus our efforts better,” says Spafford.

The channel was initially aimed at students but its core audience now includes families, teenagers, couples and young professionals. (Its biggest audience group is the US, followed by the UK). It now has 1.4 million subscribers and recipes get around seven million views per month.

“The most popular recipes tend to fall into three categories: simple midweek meals that use a few ingredients and can easily be prepared after a busy day, impressive meals made for sharing with friends and family at the weekend when you’ve got a bit more time, or sweet dishes that people really love to take the time and cook,” says Spafford. Trends also play a part – most viewed uploads include recipes for ramen, cake pops and cronuts – and labelling videos as ‘how tos’, ‘food hacks’, and ‘epic’ and ‘ultimate’ recipes has helped attract new viewers through searches.

The channel faces tough competition – not just from other YouTube channels but from TV shows, websites, bloggers and foodies on Instagram – but Sorted’s informal tone and use of friendly banter has helped set it apart. Videos are slick and professional but relaxed, with the group often joking around and chatting in between cooking. “I think the entertainment part really makes a big difference…. Being a group of friends, we can do things a lot of other cooking shows can’t,” adds Spafford.

Engaging with users has also been key: “This sounds horrifically simple, but we just chat to people and ask/answer questions. We make sure people can get involved at all levels of what we do and reference where people have helped us so they get rewarded. Our viewers have an input in every recipe we produce, from the initial idea to tips and tricks to make it amazing…. Whereas most cooking shows have an expert telling you their way to cook something, we have 1.4 million people around the world passing their knowledge between each other and us,” Spafford says.

With the quantity and quality of food videos on YouTube rising all the time, Spafford admits it can be difficult for new channels to get noticed. But social media and websites can help. Sorted promotes its content through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and its recipe-sharing website, sortedfood.com, where users can upload their own creations. “One person recently got a cookbook deal after we featured a recipe she’d uploaded to the site,” says Spafford. Last summer, the group launched an app which now has 150,000 users.

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Sorted’s app now has more than 150,000 users

Sorted’s success has led to big brand partnerships. It recently teamed up with Tesco to create a series of recipes for the supermarket’s Food and Wine channel,which also aired on TV, while Kenwood has provided appliances. The group also had a segment on the Today Show in the US, in which they travelled across the country to find great food. Spafford says the team (now made up of 12 people) is considering launching a TV show, but admits it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have the same level of conversation and engagement with TV viewers as it does online.

“The potential to open Sorted Food up to an audience that wouldn’t think to look for cooking content on YouTube is great. But at the same time we’re very conscious that we don’t lose the key thing for us – engagement from our viewers. We’d love to find a way we can keep people involved and ask people to help shape our TV show,” he adds.

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Read the full article, which also includes an interview with Richard Herd, head of Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, and advice from Google’s head of brand solutions Alison Lomax on how to create great food content for YouTube, in the February issue of CR.

  • Eddie

    The guys have been gracious enough to reference me twice in videos, and once in their blog.