We woke up this morning to big news here in Vermont: The Wall Street Journal reported that publishing giant Meredith Corporation has snapped up EatingWell Media Group, the thriving company that has "lived" and prospered in bucolic Charlotte for the last 20 years or so.
Meredith already reaches 75 million women monthly via its magazines Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Fitness, More, American Baby, Fitness and Diabetic Living, as well as its websites and broadcast efforts. Just today, Meredith also launched recipe.com, a website and magazine aggregating 20,000 recipes aimed primarily at their middle-class, 'mom on the go' demographic. Earlier this month, Meredith laid off 75 employees and folded its website ReadyMade.
EW told its employees about the sale three weeks ago, says Lisa Gosselin, EW's editorial director. Despite the question on everyone's mind — will EatingWell stay in Vermont? — Gosselin expects that the company isn't going anywhere, at least geographically. "I think they [Meredith] recognize the value of the people here, and that this is a very strong team. Vermont is so much a part of our brand. I don't think we would have been the same if we hadn't started here," says Gosselin.
Most immediately, Meredith — which is based in Des Moines but has offices in New York — plans to increase EatingWell magazine's circulation from its current 350,000 to 500,000 by January, and to "substantially increase" the group's digital presence, according to a press release.
"The resources they have compared to the resources we had as owners are starkly different. I expect they will do some stupendous things," says Cairn G. Cross of Shelburne's Fresh Tracks Capital. Cross was the chair of EatingWell's now-defunct board. He added that the deal had "been my life for the last six weeks," as Meredith combed over every facet of the business. The terms of the deal were not made public.
Cross says Meredith approached EatingWell's board a few months ago. "[Meredith] saw [EatingWell] as a premier brand deserving of the unique and distinctive voice that they didn't have." Patrick Taylor, Meredith's vice president of communications, explained that Meredith was attracted to the company because it seemed to tie together and anchor the tendrils of Meredith's food business. "In our research, there will continue to be a growing intersection between heath and wellness, and we felt this was a great intersection for us in terms of our audience. We have lot of content on food, and we have one of the largest food databases out there, but we didn't really have a destination brand, if you will."
"It's a strong play [on Meredith's] part to reach out to middle America and the average home cook," says Gosselin. "This just brings a lot of resources to what we've already been doing. We've kept our [magazine] circulation at 350K for awhile when it could have gone higher."
EW draws about 40 percent of its profits from its magazine, and the rest from its web efforts and custom publishing projects that repurpose vetted recipes and content for supermarkets (such as Price Chopper), private firms and the military. EatingWell CEO Thomas Witschi is joining Meredith as executive VP and and president of "women’s lifestyle" with responsibility for the Fitness, More, EatingWell and Diabetic Living brands. He's been with EatingWell since 2005.
"We positioned this company to be able to attract a good, strong suitor to take it beyond where we could," says Cross. Still, he admits, "It's a company that we loved being a part of. They have a great mission and a fun culture. I'll miss dropping in on the test kitchen."
Cross speculates that EatingWell will remain in Vermont. "There's no guarantees in life," he says, but the new buyer has "midwestern rural roots," he notes. "I think culturally it's a good fit. They have acquired and run remote companies in the past. They realize the core team is here and that content is a product of the people creating it."