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Fresh Ideas Blog

Strategies and advice for marketing food, wellness, and travel businesses using food and recipes in online, mobile, and print. 

Brand Cookbooks with Awesome Payoffs, Part 1

Brand cookbooks have helped companies reach their goals since 19th century. Then and now, cookbooks give companies a special way to connect with consumers in valuable ways:

  • They allow consumers to have a hands-on experience with your products at their convenience—and the consumer gets to choose which experience they want to have.
  • They are vehicles for sharing your organization’s values, expertise, and thought leadership in a deeper, more meaningful way.
  • They show people how to use your products and how versatile your product is.
  • They give people reasons to invest in more expensive products or to repeatedly purchase lower cost products.
  • They can deepen business relationships.

And, of course, cookbooks help increase brand awareness, build stronger relationships with customers, build customer sentiment about your company, and increase sales.

I want to share a few examples of brand cookbooks and how they act as tools for sharing expertise and organizational values.


One of my favorite brand cookbooks is Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More by Ari Weinzweig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003). I still remember how avidly I read about foods I love in this book's pages: flavorful cheeses, fine pastas, and different varieties of Italian rice. (The recipe for Lex’s Roast Chicken has been in my repertoire for over ten years.)

Zingerman’s, co-founded by Ari Weinzweig, has been producing and sharing its own stories, guides, and expertise for 30 years. The company’s books cover food and business leadership. Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating shares the company’s expertise in curating great food with customers, and over the years the book has helped the company accomplish several goals, according to Weinzweig. “Of course there’s the obvious—it’s nice to get the word out about our food and our approach to the food,” he wrote. “Clearly it builds sales of the book and of the food, and also it helps establish us as a leader in our field.”

Weinzweig shared some of the other benefits that both he and Zingerman’s have enjoyed from the book in an email Q&A:

Q: When you first thought of doing this book, what kinds of results were you hoping for? 

A: “Well, it’s been a while now.  But I think . . . we got what we wanted.  There are many things that matter to me about the books, this one included.  Personally I like doing the writing. It challenges me to learn, to clarify my thinking, to be able to communicate my passion.  It pushes me to really study my subjects in great depth.  On top of that the books become great training tools for our staff.

 “They’re also legacy materials—they will live longer than I will, and hopefully will continue to inform interested readers for a long time to come.  They’re a good way to tell stories of producers, people and products that might likely otherwise get passed over.  And it’s a way to bring my history background into play—every food has a story behind it.”

Q:  After The Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating came out, how did people connect with Zingerman’s, and was some of the response unexpected? 

A: “I think it’s actually pretty much what we envisioned!  People like to learn and the book helps make that happen.  Really one of the nice things is that many people still swear by it and use it all these years later.  Teaching and training is a big piece of our work.  It’s in our long term vision and it’s in our Guiding Principles.

“Of course we educate and train in other ways too—we teach a lot of classes here for our customers on food. Ten years ago we started a home baking school called BAKE ( And of course ZingTrain is our training business where we teach our approaches to business.”

Q. Is there anything you would have done differently with The Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating

“Well, in honesty, I would have made the move to self-publishing from the start. I really like that we’re doing our own thing now.  Not that everyone at Houghton Mifflin didn’t work hard on the Guide to Good Eating and do good work.  I’m just used to managing details like paper selection, where to place illustrations, word choice . . . small things that many authors may not pay as much attention to.  And since we’ve been doing our own design here for over thirty years, and because we have our own outlets through which to sell the books, it just makes sense to run with that skill set.  A word here, a sentence there, a paragraph break somewhere else may seem unimportant but to me they make all the difference.  It’s like getting salt level right in a soup, or testing the grind on the burger meat the Roadhouse, or making sure the espresso has a great long finish.  Easy to skip past but the little things make a big difference.  And I want to feel good about every aspect of each book.

“The business books (the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading series) and Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon were all self-published here by Zingerman’s Press.  I feel better about the paper, the covers, the little things.  We do all the design internally and have them printed here in town. We’re mostly off the grid so that we distribute and sell ourselves, and not through the mass market outlets.” 

More to come...

Zingerman’s is releasing Ari Weinzweig’s next book this summer: Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to the Power of Beliefs in Business. In my Q&A with him, Ari Weinzweig shared a lot more about Zingerman’s approach to content marketing (they were doing it way before anyone started using the term "content marketing"), why Zingerman's is such a great place to work, and the life lessons that moved him to write this new book. 



If you’ve ever seen the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid or the Whole Grains Stamp, you’ve seen the work of Oldways, a Boston-based non-profit food think tank. Oldways works with food companies, chefs, the health community, scientists, dietitians, journalists and food writers, and consumers around the world to improve health through traditional diets.

Their cookbook The Oldways Table: Essays & Recipes from the Culinary Think Tank (2007, Ten Speed Press) introduces the Oldways story and shares their philosophy of looking to traditional ways of cooking and enjoying food around the world as inspiration for healthy, delicious eating. 

The book is full of short essays—some of them more scientific (“Are Antioxidants and Elixir for a Long and Healthy Life?”), some of them instructional (“Artichoke 101”), and some narrative.  (In “First Blood,” author K. Dun Gifford shares the story of learning how to slaughter chickens as a boy). With each, the authors are sharing their approach to eating for health and for a sustainable planet.

The team at Oldways could very well have produced a non-fiction essay book about the organization’s value with no recipes. You don’t need a cookbook to share your thought leadership. But a cookbook is genius for a couple of reasons:

  • It gives people a practical way to try the Oldways approach to food. Readers can put the authors’ position to the test, literally, by cooking a recipe. One dish isn’t a huge commitment, readers can choose a recipe that appeals to them, and it makes the science and values in the book interactive, in a sense.
  • A book format is perfect for bringing people into the feeling of an intimate, thoughtful conversation. Read any of the essays and you’re going to spend time thinking about your personal connections to the topic. This gives the organization an opportunity to make a lingering impression with each reader.
  • A cookbook gives people a practical way to build community around the organization’s message. This is how food movements build: People can share finished dishes, recipes, or entire meals with others, and these become great ways for people to talk about the ideals and values behind the food.
  • It gives the organization a chance to engage influencers and partners. The book is full of recipes and essays from people in the food world such as restaurateur and television show host Lidia Bastianich, rancher Bill Niman, cookbook author Paula Wolfert, New York Times columnist Melissa Clark, and chefs Barbara Lynch and Deborah Madison. The Oldways Table also includes content from partners such as The Peanut Institute.

More to come...

Other brand cookbooks help companies reach different goals, such as encouraging people to use an appliance or piece of cookware, showing people how versatile an ingredient can be, or helping to promote a destination. I’ll share examples of some of these books in Part 2 of this series, .