Who Gets Paid to Write Recipes?

Nov 082011
 

In preparation for a recent recipe writing panel for the International Food Blogger Conference, I decided I wanted to know more about career recipe developers and how they work.

So I spoke and emailed with professional recipe developers who work for retail food manufacturers, growers, commodity boards, and commissions such as the California Walnut Commission. My goal was to get more information about corporate recipe writing, and also to understand what kinds of opportunities exist for food writers.

Here’s the first thing I learned: The culinary experts who get these jobs are not necessarily food writers or cookbook authors. These professionals might have backgrounds in nutrition, or they’re dieticians, or they have a degree in home economics or food science. While they may not have been to culinary school, they are skilled cooks who can write recipes using a variety of techniques and styles. They also might be members of IACP‘s Test Kitchen Professionals Special Section.

When coming up with ideas, these recipe developers study food trends and know what kind of ingredients are current and which have staying power. They know what level of sophistication clients want, depending on their target audience, and they consider variables such as pan size and substitutions.

Recipe developers might work with chefs to rewrite recipes that work in a home cook’s kitchen. Some have clients who want recipes that conform to dietary specifications or require nutritional analysis. Sometimes their clients ask for product concepts first, which means writing out ideas for recipes, such as five variations on a turkey sandwich. Oh, and don’t even bother with a pannini or a sandwich with pesto or cranberries — they already have those in their files, thanks.

Once clients select the recipes they like, the finished recipes could appear in several places, including:

  • In a magazine ad
  • On product packaging
  • On a company’s website, or
  • In a press release directed to newspaper and magazine editors who use free content.

Recipe developers charge between $300 and $600 per recipe, depending on experience or on complexity of the recipes. Reimbursement for groceries is always separate. Typically, the recipes will belong to the company, not to the writer. And one last thing: the client might have a test kitchen, so the recipe better work flawlessly, be well written, conform to food safety standards, and taste great.

I’m looking forward to learning more by talking with my fellow panelists at this weekend’s IFBC conference in Santa Monica. I’ll be on a recipe development panel with Amelia Saltsman, author and publisher of The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Cookbook; and Martha Homberg, former editor of Fine Cooking magazine. Hope to see you there!

(A version of this post first appeared in my quarterly newsletter about food writing. My newsletter contains tips and links to helpful articles and resources. If you’d like to receive it, sign up here.)

(Photo courtesy Simon Howden, Free Digital Photos.)

  76 Responses to “Who Gets Paid to Write Recipes?”

  1. A humbling piece, just when I was beginning to feel halfway secure about my recipe development skills. Most informative! Looking forward to your discussion and to meeting you next weekend in Santa Monica.

    • Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, Liz! More and more bloggers are breaking into the recipe development world at this level. My friend who is a professional recipe developer complains about it all the time.

      Looking forward to meeting you in a few days.

      • I am a blogger that has recently gotten a job doing social media for a food manufacturing company. Now, my job is growing with some recipe writing and photographing those dishes. They get two for one with a blogger. I also do it all from home. We both win in this case. I believe I would of never gotten the job with out the blog as a part of my resume’. Really looking forward to hearing from you in Santa Monica this weekend. It will be my first conference. I am ready to learn.

      • Hello, can you tell me how your friend got into the recipe development field? I am looking to do that.

        Thank you
        Dawn Gullusci
        Dawn@wholefoodlady.com

      • Hello, can you tell me how your friend got into the recipe development field? I am looking to do that.

        Thank you
        Dawn Gullusci

        • As the post states, there are many paths to recipe development, Dawn. I’m not sure whom you’re referring to, but I do have a friend who started out with a degree in home economics. I don’t think that degree is still offered.

          • I have a Nutrition Degree and am the owner of a Gluten and Allergen Free special order bakery. I want to expand into the recipe development area and was wondering where to start. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

          • Are you talking about writing up recipes from your bakery or writing recipes for pay?

  2. This article is really relevant to me! Earlier this year, I scored a casual ongoing assignment to develop recipes for a company, but I would love to start branching out to do this for other companies as well, and turn it into something of a career with a somewhat steady income. It would be interesting to tour the life of a professional full-time recipe developer for one day. I imagine their kitchens would be much more well-equipped than mine!

    • Not necessarily. They have to create recipes for the home cook, so they should not have a Wolf stove and a chinois, for examples. Maybe they have more pan sizes than the average person, though, and lots of tasting spoons and little plastic containers.

  3. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that with us, Dianne. I’ve always wondered how recipe development for corporations works.

  4. As always, Dianne, well researched and super-helpful. Amazing all these little niches in life.

  5. I am the test kitchen manager at Birds Eye Foods and I am also the Chair of the IACP Test Kitchen Professionals. If anyone is looking for more information about the corporate recipe development or IACP, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for the article Dianne. Have fun at IFBC!!

    • Hi Selena,
      Thanks for your note. I am an IACP member and I didn’t realize their was a test kitchen section! I need to join that since I do quite a bit of corporate recipe development. Birds Eye – sounds like a potentially good match since I’m a registered dietitian, too. Right now I’m working on a cookbook, so I’ll try to remember to reach out to you after I turn in the manuscript.

      Diane,
      I just wanted to add that grocery expenses aren’t always added on, from my experience. Some of my clients just include it in the lump sum, which I actually prefer. I have so many ingredients in my inventory already, plus, then I don’t have to invoice for all of those receipts – I just give to my bookkeeper. Another wonderful post – thank you.

      Best,
      Michelle

    • Selena, what a wonderful offer. Thank you. Readers, her email is selena.darrow@pinnaclefoods.com

    • Hi Selena,

      I am very interested in getting into the professional recipe development field. I develop all natural, gluten, dairy and allergen free recipes. There is a growing need for this type of food among the special needs community. Can you please direct me on how I might get into this field?

      Thank you

    • Michelle Gardner
      2793 south co rd 225east
      Danville in 46122

  6. You are a true inspiration for our industry. I know I can click on over here for up to the minute research and support. Looking forward to hearing you at IFBC.

    • What a lovely endorsement, Jean. Thank you. I remember meeting you in Seattle at the second IFBC. See you there.

  7. Looking forward to hearing your presentation at the conference this weekend!

  8. Thank you for another great post Dianne! It’s interesting to know that recipe developers don’t necessarily have culinary school backgrounds, but do of course have relevant experience. Wish I could make it to the conference this weekend! Can’t wait to hear about it.

    • Yes, and they don’t necessarily have food writing backgrounds either. I thought it would be interesting to discuss. Hope you make it to another conference soon — they are definitely fun.

  9. Excellent read Dianne! I look forward to seeing you later this week at IFBC and learning more with you :)

    • Thank you Wendy. I’ll be on 2 panels this time, on recipe development and on ethics. Look forward to seeing you.

  10. Very informative. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Great article as always. One thing I’d be curious about, and perhaps you cover this elsewhere on your site, is the process of getting recipe development gigs that pay. I’d be curious if people are pitching these companies, much as they might with a story or book proposal, or if companies are coming to them based on their experience and reputation.

    I know a common theme on your blog is that bloggers and writers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for fair compensation for their work, but not sure how the process usually goes in this case.

  12. Once again, your timing is impeccable! I was just speaking with someone about this the other day and wondering how much to charge for a couple recipes I was developing. Normally, I’m woefully underpaid (probably due to my interest in securing the gig) but this makes me want to continue to push myself, learn and grow to feel confident in asking for market rates. Thanks, Dianne!

    • Oh you’re welcome, Elizabeth. There’s not enough discussion about money in our business, so it’s hard to find out this kind of stuff.

  13. Your many talents must include clairvoyance, Diane — this is an area in which I have had an on-going interest and meant to research. Many thanks for exploring and illuminating the subject. Just signed up for your newsletter.

  14. Great information Dianne. I’m glad you described the professional qualifications of recipe developers. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and often get questions from someone “who likes to cook”. I always do concepts for the clients before development and wish I got paid $600 for a recipe.

    • You mean someone “who likes to cook” thinks they can do what you do? Ha. Well, we can dream, right? Re $600 per recipe, maybe now you will feel empowered to charge more. Although I realize, sometimes the client gives you the fee and it’s more like take it or leave it.

  15. Great post, Dianne. Your description of professional recipe writing/development is right on. I’ve been doing this for many years (both as a food company employee and a consultant) and have way too many pans, measuring cups etc! Our blog, GetCookingSimply.com, might provide a bit more insight for your readers.

  16. Ah, everything’s been hectic since I started school again, but this was a great read. I never actually thought about who wrote the recipes… Seems like it’d be a rather competitive application process

  17. I love your line about the turkey sandwiches – so true!
    Great post, honest and realistic.

  18. I have a friend who is a recipe developer here in Australia. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted or those who like acknowledgement – my friend (who probably should know better) get quite cheesed off if she isn’t recognised for her work. It is also a career that requires quite specialised skills here, too.

    • I suppose that is true that most professional recipe writers don’t get bylines. But they get paid well! Maybe that makes it worthwhile.

      • Only just came across this post and it is super interesting (as I am currently taking my first timid steps in this field). Have enjoyed all the comments as well – what I don’t understand is why often recipe developers get no by-line. I mean, even painting commissions still reference the painter. I also don’t see what it takes away from a company to have a little line at the bottom of the recipe that simply mentions the recipe developer’s name? Also, how are you supposed to build your portfolio while also making a living (given that recipe development for companies tends to pay better) when companies won’t give you by-lines?

        • Thanks. Regarding your question, it depends who’s publishing the recipe, Sophia. Often companies want the public to think the recipe comes from them, rather than an individual whose name the customer won’t recognize.

          • Thanks for the quick response Dianne. That certainly makes sense but having just browsed some recipes in a big online food magazine I saw that the photographer got a by-line but not the recipe writer – seems an odd distinction. Also, depending on the size of the company I would assume they outsource the recipe development so would never assume a recipe is their creation, whether or not there is a by-line. Not sure how much I would fight not getting a mention by name if this issue ever comes up, but I think it’ worth pushing back on at least once.

          • That is an interesting point about the photographer. It is standard to put a photo credit but not a recipe credit. I never thought about it that way before!

            Yes it is definitely worth pushing back at least once.

  19. Aaaaand once again I come away from reading one of your blog posts feeling underpaid! Haha. I have been doing recipe development for a company who publishes in-store magazines for grocery store chains, and get paid between $150 to $200 plus groceries and $20/hour for shopping time. Perhaps they pay less than the average because they come up with the ideas and I just have to supply the recipe? Or perhaps it’s the fact that I’m in a job market that has a much higher unemployment than many parts of the country. This is my first gig doing this type of work too, so I didn’t really know what the averages were. Good to know for future reference, though! (I should note, this company does pay pretty well for editorial content… about 80 cents a word, much higher than I get for any “journalistic” content I’ve written.)

    • I don’t think the rates you’ve described are too low, necessarily, for a beginning writer and recipe developer. Steady work might pay less but make up for it in volume. If a company wanted 5 recipes and no continuing relationship, you would probably charge more.

      It’s a great gig for your first one. If it’s going well and they are continuing to ask for work, ask for a raise. They can only say no.

      I heard from another established recipe developer since writing this post, and her rates are lower. And yes, the range I quoted includes if they have to come up with the concept, such as whether a recipe should use butter vs. olive oil, refined sugar, which herbs, how sophisticated, etc. And they are meant to include if the company wanted you to use their product, such as frozen mashed potatoes.

      • I agree it’s a great gig and I feel very grateful to have been given the opportunity with only my blog as prior experience. Hope I didn’t sound like I was complaining! I guess the bottom line for any gig is whether YOU feel appropriately compensated for the time and effort put in, not what other people might get paid.

  20. As always Dianne, great post and interesting comments from everyone. Loved the comment about we don’t discuss compensation enough. True. We need to, to help each other. At the end of the day, we all want to do what we love, what we are good at, and be paid fairly for our experience and hard work. I’ve wondered about recipe writing and development in terms of additional business. Never knew what to charge if I was asked, a common theme in the culinary world…and not being underpaid or taken advantage of or giving our expertise away for “free”.

    Looking forward to IFBC this weekend!

    • Thanks, Sally. Great to have seen you at IFBC. I didn’t necessarily get the range right, if you continue to read the comments. The price range depends on other things such as whether you’re using the client’s product and whether you have to come up with the concept. I think it’s a little high.

      I’m glad you are thinking about being taken advantage of. Many new bloggers don’t. You come from the business world, so you have an advantage.

  21. Thanks for your continued support for, and wisdom about, food writing at all levels and in all arenas, Dianne. I feel pretty dialed in to this corner of it all – recipe development – (although I’d be happy to do more of it!) but often feel like a total dope when it comes to growing/bettering my blog. How well you get us all to, well, cross-pollinate is so great – and so appreciated. :)

    Have a great time at the conference this weekend.

    • Thanks Jill. You’ve got your feet in several camps: recipe developer, freelance writer, cookbook author and blogger. Hard to be an expert in all of them.

      I’d be curious to know whether this range of fees I gave sounded right to you, and what I might have left out.

      • The range of fees you mention jives with my experience. The higher end definitely only comes from a client who does this regularly and understands that experience makes a difference. When I was new to it, I certainly did plenty of jobs for less – partly because I was willing, but also because I didn’t know better!

        One thing I’d add is that promotional recipe development – just like editorial recipe development – is all about being a dependable resource. You have to understand your client’s audience, and propose and then develop recipes that are 100% appropriate. And then you have to deliver what you proposed when you said you would, without a lot of fuss and bother – and of course it has to be delicious and doable.

        I think that one of the reasons I’m good at recipe development-for-hire is because I used to work in advertising, where my job was to communicate the appropriate message to the appropriate audience in the appropriate way – whether the product was diapers or credit cards. Here, it’s almost the same thing, except that the form of the communication is a recipe. Does that make sense?

        One thing you didn’t touch on – I’m curious what you’ve discovered about how others get promotional recipe development jobs. For me, it mostly seems about luck and relationships, which is okay, but I don’t like so much of my work dependent on factors beyond my control!

  22. Dianne,
    Thanks for another interesting post and engaging discussion. I learned a lot from this post about recipe developers and their qualifications. I just started “calling” myself one in addition to being a cooking instructor, though I’m not quite certain I should now. Well at least I don’t call myself a “professional” recipe developer ;)

    • I suppose anyone who writes original recipes for a blog is a recipe developer, Shefaly. The “professional” comes in when someone’s paying you to do it.

  23. Great article! I can’t think of a better job than getting paid to sit around and play with food all day long!

  24. Wow.So much goes into recipe writing. I wasn’t aware of it at all. Thanks for sharing such invaluable information.

  25. Something I have been wondering about, good to know :-). Thanks for posting this info!

  26. Dianne,
    What an excellent, informative and timely post this is for me!
    I am poised to begin my own adventure as a recipe writer as of today (1/16/12). It’s a direction I have considered for a few years; after many, many years in the food business first as a curious kid in my mother’s kitchen, through almost the full the range of positions in a restaurant, with about 7 years working for other caterers, over 11 years as a school food service manager, up to the present day as the owner of my own catering business for over 14 years.
    A friend gave me the link to your blog, Jennifer Carden ( cook @350degrees.com ) . She had high praise for your opinions and writings. I can see why. Due to a referral from Jen I landed a great gig for Ral Corp Holding Co. at the SF Fancy Food Show, an event on a scale which defies viewing, let alone tasting or absorbing in the 3 days for which it’s held. Tomorrow is the final day and today I was told by my contacts at Ral Corp that they would like to buy my recipes for the toppings I created to promote their new Ry Krisp Mini Crackers.
    How helpful you have been to me via my having read this post of yours. Also, I found all of the comments others left to be interesting & some extremely insightful. Your forum is one I will visit often.
    Many Thanks,
    Mark O’Lone
    baylrl@pacbell.net
    Bay Laurel Catering
    San Rafael CA

    • Hi Mark, congratulations on your new career and gig. I wish you much success. You will have to become a proficient recipe writer. For this you can find lots of posts on my blog under “Recipes,” and there’s a whole chapter on writing recipes in my book, Will Write for Food.

      Best of luck, and how wonderful that you are friends with someone as talented as Jennifer.

  27. Hi

    I am a food/recipe writer,and am looking for jobs that i can do.
    I’ve tried a few places but without any luck,is there any people/places that i can contact to get a good gig?

    Please let me know
    thanx

    • This is a very general question, so I don’t know how to answer it. Some companies pay recipe writers but I don’t have a list of them, sorry.

  28. Hi Dianne,

    I’m in Sydney Australia and googled “how much to charge for my recipes” and came across this article – great information – thank you! Food has been a long passion of mine. Ive been working since i was 17 in every other industry than food and now at 32 i’m embarking on changing my career.

    I will be contributing my recipes to a friend fitness book. Im thinking of charging $200-$300 a recipe.

    Is there any kind of information you can advise around the legal side of things – ie the way i see it is i own rights to that recipe so then once i contribute, and the book is published, can i still use that recipe else where or are they tied to that persons book forever?

    thanks in advance for your help
    Manar

    • Congrats on your new assignment, Manar. Discuss these issues with your client and then write a contract that specifies your rights. There is no one way. Some clients buy all rights and some let you use recipes elsewhere.

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