SortedFood: Four friends become stars of huge advertising campaign after hit YouTube cookery show

Two British companies built on online videos will get national exposure - Ian Burrell spoke to their founders

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The Independent Online

A YouTube cookery show created by four school friends from Hertfordshire because they were so concerned about their poor diets will be transformed overnight as they become stars of a huge advertising campaign by the Google-owned platform.

SortedFood is one of two self-starting British firms – the other is Copa 90, a football broadcaster – about to receive a huge boost with adverts appearing across the internet, including on the ITV and Channel 4 websites, and at Tube and railway stations. A similar campaign last year featured the fashion vlogger Zoella, the science vloggers the SlowMo Guys, and the news channel Vice News.

SortedFood has been so successful that the four founders recently went on a three-month US tour, sampling meals in restaurants and homes and recording video reports for NBC’s Today show.

One of the video ads for SortedFood, which was started by four friends worried about their poor diets

Copa 90 has grown to an audience of more than one million subscribers in only three years and has established itself as a “guerrilla” football broadcaster, challenging the established networks despite not having rights to film matches: instead it focuses its cameras on the fans.

Rich Waterworth, YouTube’s head of marketing in Europe, said the two companies were “shining examples” of online broadcasters with “ability to connect with their fans in an honest and personal way”.

SortedFood, which has 1.3 million YouTube subscribers, was set up by four former school friends from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, who met up again as tertiary students and realised they all had dietary problems. 

Jamie Spafford, one of the four co-founders, said: “Food was the one conversation we kept coming back to, realising how bad all our diets were, whether it was takeaway food or microwaved meals.” They started experimenting with recording videos aimed at friends and families.

An early video on the procedure for making lasagne proved their gateway to international recognition. “We got a comment from someone in Australia saying, ‘I don’t suppose you could tell me how to make a pizza?’” Mr Spafford recalled.

When they began SortedFood there were few food videos on YouTube except for historic clips from television shows. Their presentation style is a chatty exchange between four friends. “Everything we do is just a conversation about food,” said Mr Spafford. “It’s not like you have a TV chef standing there saying, ‘This is how you make…’ something. We have tips coming from around the world and that makes it different.”

As the channel has built a large and highly interactive audience, long-term sponsorships have been built with Kenwood and Tesco. The original team – Mr Spafford, Ben Ebbrell, Mike Huttlestone and Barry Taylor – has grown in five years to a staff of 11 and the company has acquired studios near Tower Bridge in London.

A still from an advert featuring the football channel Copa90

Copa 90 chief executive Tom Thirlwall relishes taking the challenge to football’s broadcasting establishment and said his company was not  interested in trying to acquire rights to games. “The value for our business was not buying some cheap second-hand rights and sticking in some ex-footballers in suits to discuss it until their faces turn blue,” he said. A young internet audience – unlike the “47-year-olds” watching TV sport – was capable of searching out goals and highlights “via stream or download or Vine video”, and so “we set up around telling the stories outside the 90 minutes to make the 90 minutes matter more”.

Eli Mengem, 24, from Melbourne, Australia, was recruited as a reporter during a global talent search and has since made 100 films in 30 countries. He is about to embark on an 18-nation trip to meet new filmmakers and find more off-field stories.

Rather than obsessing over team formations and tactics, he focuses on supporter culture and has explored the hard-core, flag-waving “ultras”, from Seattle to Sarajevo, who are largely ignored off limits to traditional broadcasters.

Mr Mengem embraces the “Against Modern Football” movement that challenges ticket prices and heavy-handed treatment of fans. “This is a generation that’s disenfranchised with modern football. We can’t afford to go to games and the stars are further away than ever.”

Mr Thirlwall admits that when Copa 90 first took cameras to games “we would have the odd tap on the shoulder” but now the site is “welcomed with open arms” because of its influence and reach.

Copa 90 now has a staff of 70 with offices in London and New York, with another base due to open in Asia. The YouTube deal, Mr Thirlwall said, would transform the company by raising its awareness among fans and advertisers. “This will put us fairly and squarely on the map.”