Food Blogger Conference Offers Killer Goody Bag

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Should you go to the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle August 27-29? James Osland, editor of Saveur, will give the keynote; Victoria Von Beul, executive editor of Bon Appetit magazine will lead a pitch session; memoirist Kathleen Flinn will teach a “Writing With the Senses” class; and I’ll be speaking on a panel about recipes, moderated by Amy Sherman.

These are not good enough reasons!  On a food blogger listserv, the buzz was all about what might be in the goody bags based on what recipients scored last year. Here’s what they said:

    “I figure between the goody bag we’ll be receiving (last year’s was insane) and the food we’ll be served, the $350 is actually pretty worth it.”
    “I know – I was drooling over that knife people got. I’m not sure if I can
    really rely on the goody bag though for ROI :) who knows what they are
    putting in there.”
    “The goodie bag alone was at least $350 last year..”

When I mentioned these comments to IFBC  founder Sheri Wetherell, she was pleased. “That’s nice to hear that IFBC is getting buzz on the listservs :),” she wrote me in an email. “Indeed, our goody bag was something to behold. We partnered with our good friends at Sur la Table who organized the whole thing with their various vendors. It ended up being 23 pounds and worth over $600…Here are some of the items:

  • 10-inch Shun chef”s knife
  • Kyocera ceramic knife and mandoline set
  • Bodum glassware
  • Scanpan  omelette pan
  • Built lunch bag
  • Oxo products (with personalized labels attached to their products thanking the bloggers)
  • Sur La Table’s Art of Baking cookbook.”

“We call the goody bags ‘blog fodder’ because everything in them is so quality,” Sheri continued. “As… someone who’s been to numerous conferences of all types, I said to myself, ‘the bags need to useful and beneficial to both parties (blogger and vendor).’ In fact, it was like Christmas day when they got them! ”

“This year SLT has agreed again to compile items from their vendors. From the vendors’ perspective, giving products to food bloggers is much cheaper than paid advertising and they know they are targeting their audience. While we can’t obviously guarantee that bloggers will blog about the contents of their bags, many of them did so and we are still seeing a lot of product appear in their photography, even with no mention of product name. So that in itself is a win for the vendor.”

I wasn’t sure what to think. At first I went into default: I put on my journalism hat, which says you shouldn’t take anything worth over $25 because it will influence what you write. Then I realized I had accepted a Chef’s Catalog goody bag from a party at BlogHer Food last year. Busted! Was that okay because I didn’t write anything about it? Maybe I’m rationalizing. I like a treat as much as the next person.

I thought back to the goodies I got as a participant at last month’s International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference in Portland: a plastic water bottle, a small synthetic mop brush, a $.30 bag of lentils…was there any comparison? The message was hard to miss: Bloggers are hot. Everybody else, not so much.

It’s clear why Sur La Table thinks bloggers are worth more loot. I had lunch with a food blogger while at IACP. A book publisher already tapped her to write two books, and a literary agent had just approached her. This blogger is not a household name, yet she has more than 1 million annual readers. That’s close to the circulation of Food & Wine and Saveur magazines combined.

She’s just one person. Of course companies want their products on her blog.

Since most bloggers write for free, do they think of this goody bag as a reward for their hard work? Actually, that has nothing to do with it. It’s cheap press. Sheri says so too.

And what’s wrong with that? I can come up with a few arguments, just because I like to:

  • If you put one of these knives in your blog’s photo, will you mention you got it for free?
  • Do you mind having your blog known as an inexpensive place for promotion?
  • Would your readers mind knowing that too?

As usual, I look forward to the discussion. And I hope I won’t get a heated phone call from Sheri.

Update: Amy Sherman has posted a photo of the loot.


  1. says

    I think that looking at the goody bag in the same light as you look at other “gifts” to bloggers. The goody bag will be available only to the people who attend the conference – and I SO wish I could afford to go, you have no idea, but conference fees PLUS flight from New Zealand makes that cost prohibitive for me.

    I’ve attended a lot of conferences, usualy to do with the IT industry. The goodie bags vary a lot, some good, some excellent, some better forgotten. Of course what you get in the bag (and the bag itself) is good stuff and a bit of promotion/press for those who give out the items. But I don’t perceive that as a request to promote the items on my sites, whether it be my cooking site or my web development site. In other words, there is no request, nor expectation that a blogger would blog, review or promote any of the companies or products they get in the bag.

    It would never cross my mind to see the bag of goodies as a reward for hard work. It’s not. It’s a benefit of attending a conference. Otherwise I could expect a goodie bag in the post anytime soon (one can always hope, right? :) ). And I would expect *anyone* to disclose if/when they get a product for free if they review. Seems to go without say.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Nic,

      You all need a food blogger conference in Australia or NZ! Can I come?

      There is never an explicit request for coverage — that would be considered amateurish. It is always implied, though. Why else would they give out free product?

      You can expect people to disclose, but I think on blogs, it is rare.

      • says

        Hmm, strange, I didn’t receive notification of responses, sorry for coming back so late to it!

        I keep thinking about all the non-food conferences I’ve been to, and the schwag I received there. Some really nice stuff in some cases. Conferences where attendees were not writers, or bloggers. There couldn’t be any expectation, implicit or not, for reviews of product to be done. Sure, it’s publicity – I really did enjoy that 32GB USB drive I got a couple years ago. And having a product from that company when I needed another drive, because the product was good, I looked at their stuff. Fair enough. But it was a conference perk.

        Which is VERY different to making gifts to a blogger directly.

        In any case, yeah, we could do with a food blogger conference here. A group of people tried to organise one in Aussie, not sure where that went. But getting to OZ from NZ isn’t obvious. And the market, even counting both countries is minuscule compared to the US – goodie bag wouldn’t be anywhere this nice :)

  2. says

    I feel no obligation to write about things I am given as freebies from a company or in a conference bag. When I do publish something, in the rare instances that I have, I always disclose per FCC rules. As far as I can tell from reading said rules, there is no disclosure or obligation inherent in receiving a gift.

    Do I think of freebies and goodie bags as perks? For sure. They in no way ‘pay’ for the hours I spend researching and writing.

    I am always conscious of your second point about the perception of blogs. I want my site to be an educational resource, not a cheap promotional mouthpiece.

    • diannejacob says

      I beg to differ. You are obligated to disclose when endorsing a product or service you received as a gift. See this prior post.

      Cheap promotional mouthpiece! I don’t think anyone would accuse you of that.

      • says

        I was a little unclear. I meant that there is no obligation to disclose for simply receiving a gift UNLESS you are writing or endorsing it in someway. For instance at the last conference I went to, none of the goodies matched with my education mission so I didn’t write about any of them. In that case I don’t believe I am obligated to disclose, right?

        • diannejacob says

          Oh sorry. Absolutely. If you are not endorsing anything, you don’t have to disclose anything. However, that sounds like it’s okay to just take stuff and not write about it. Maybe occasionally, but not all the time.

  3. says

    Oooh now I really want to go to that conference! I’m a sucker for free stuff, especially if it’s nice.

    I wouldn’t mind being targeted by promoters, as long as it’s clear that there is no guarantee I will say anything nice at all. I would never be dishonest–crap is still crap even if it’s free. And if it’s laughably crappy, I’d LOVE to blog about it. Goodie-bag marketers beware.

  4. says

    I wanna go! I really do! and not for the knife but…
    How does one take ze knife home on the plane?
    Checking airfares today!
    THANKS Dianne

  5. Hsin says

    I used to work for one of the top 10 newspapers in the country and the policy was not to accept gifts of value (generally over $20 or more, although the majority of editors I worked with discouraged staff from accepting freebies period, even if we weren’t planning to mention or show the item or service at all). It was among various policies meant to cultivate and maintain the trust of our audience.

    When reviewing products (such as cars or electronics), the policy was to clearly disclose that the item being reviewed was provided temporarily by the company for the purposes of our review.

    I’m probably a little old fashioned or conservative, but I think the most important thing is openness (or transparency) and honesty. It shows respect for the audience and helps build confidence in readers / viewers that they wouldn’t ever have to worry about being misled, even unintentionally, even if the writer/videographer is already obviously the most honest and ethical person in the world.

    I’m not telling anybody what to do — nothing wrong if the policy is to keep certain items. But I respect when a company or individual is completely open and honest about that sort of thing.

    Beyond that, as a blogger/journalist you can’t trust 100 percent that the freebie or sample is representative of what a person would be able to buy on his/her own. (That’s one of the reason that Consumer Reports independently purchases equipment that it plans to test — so as not to receive “special” items from manufacturers trying to ace the review.) That doesn’t mean that you can’t use/test a freebie or sample. But I think that is a very good reason for disclosing when a product/service that you use or display came into your possession as a freebie/sample instead of the usual consumer route. It’s honest and respects the audience’s ability to use their judgment.

    As for goody bags provided to conference attendees, I think that attendees can use their judgment whether to keep the items. Although you can infer that the providers of the goodies hope that their products get some publicity, the swag is part of the conference and not a direct editorial appeal and not a direct attempt at a relationship. Personally, I’d probably at least try the goodies out before giving them away because on my budget, I would not get the opportunity to ever use the stuff if it weren’t given to me. If I were attending the conference and happened to keep the items instead of donating them to a charitable auction or somesuch, I think the best policy still would be openness — ie. to disclose where the items came from if a blogger or journalist in any other media choose to include those items in their content.

    • diannejacob says

      Sounds sensible to me. I’m sure there are many bloggers who write about items they’ve purchased, not just about freebies.

      Re the goody bag, I think someone just hands you the whole thing. You have to figure out what to do with it.

  6. says

    Ah, yes, the schwag problem. When I got into blogging three years ago and started writing about food, I naively had no idea I’d be targeted by PR people, restaurant people or food companies, or that my in-box would fill up (literally) with hundreds of e-mails promoting everything from appropriate notices about local events and foods (my purview) or an interview with a “Real Estate Artist/Philanthro-capitalist” (so not). Bottom line: I try to let my readers know when I’m comped, whether it’s a media event at a restaurant, an overnight stay in a hotel or a bag of coffee beans to sample. And I don’t write about stuff I don’t like, so no amount of goody-giving or schmoozing can buy any words, good or bad. But the freebies still make me uncomfortable, as does writing about people who, sometimes, become friends. Maybe the fact that it bothers me is a good thing, so I’m mindful of the conflict when I write? I don’t know.

    • diannejacob says

      Sounds good except that you should, occasionally, write about stuff you don’t like. And you should also be writing mixed reviews. I hope not everything is a rave. See previous posts on this subject under reviews.

  7. says

    It’s fun to read everyone’s feedback on getting goodies at conferences. Being a newer blogger, and having never attended a conference nor approached by PR, etc., it is great info for me to digest as I write, cook, blog, stumble, and get up and try again. I look forward to attending my first conference in August!

  8. says

    <3 <3 <3 the goody bag. Sure, it could be seen as a payoff for all of the hours we put into our blogs (it definitely could be rationalized that way) but in the end, it's a win-win for everyone – the advertisers AND the bloggers. The readers aren't penalized, because odds are we won't pass on winning reviews of bad products to them, so they get an idea of what works from people they trust (us).

    That said, I get a little bent about the idea of being manipulated by advertisers (I have a serious button there) but if I'm getting a payoff I'm happy with, I don't feel like I'm being used or shafted. Along a similar line of thinking, every time someone wears a Gap jacket, they're essentially advertising for Gap – but the wearer of the jacket is paying for the privilege!

    Much love to Sheri and Barnaby for putting together this conference, and to Susanna for arranging the goody bag. :)

    • diannejacob says

      Wait…”winning reviews of bad products.” What does that mean?

      Re being used or shafted, that sounds a little extreme. Now, if we were following the magazine model, advertisers would be buying an ad and we would get the money. I guess they’re giving us stuff for review, but we are not obligated to do so.

  9. says

    Dianne – Wonderful article on goodie bags! I have to say that last year when we reached out to our vendors for some items for the IFBC goodie bag, that we were blown away. We expected to receive maybe 10 items for each bag if we were lucky and we thought that would be great! When each bag ended up weighing more than 20 lbs. we were astounded! We are sponsoring the IFBC again this year and providing goodie bags. We don’t know at this point in time if the bag will be as grand as it was last year. We don’t expect that it will be. We do hope to provide some interesting products to people who write about food and yes with that we hope to garner some positive feedback.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Rebecca, I’m sure people will be very interested in whatever you come up with.

  10. says

    I just attended Camp Blogaway last weekend in Big Bear in Southern CA and was surprised at the generous swag bag, including a $35 “Eating Local” 2010 hardback book by Sur La Table. Don’t know what they think they’re going to get from me in return, but I’m happy to have it. For such a small group (about 65 food bloggers), maybe it’s just general branding for them as part of their media budget. Am new at this and still trying to figure it all out.

    • diannejacob says

      Yep, we had several giveaways from Sur La Table of that very same book at my Foodportunity writing class in Seattle on Saturday. They’re hoping bloggers will review it, of course. Or maybe be curious about all the other books SLT has done in the last few years with Andrews-McMeel. So all you have to do is decide if it’s appropriate to your readers to review the book. If not, you are not obligated.

  11. says

    A year later, I just dug out an item received in the IFBC swag. Loved it! Thanks Sur la Table for sharing the Chef’N Strawberry huller. It has made making batches of jam and other strawberry items a breeze. It also felt great to write about the item because I wanted to!