Food Copywriting Is More Than Food Writing (7 Skills To Look For)
Why food brands need to think beyond product descriptions and look for a multi-skilled food copywriter.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten an email that says this…
We’re looking for a food copywriter who can write descriptions that make our food sound amazing.
Yes – you need your food products to sound delicious. The more mouthwatering, the more likely the reader will say “Oh that sounds great!” and click BUY.
But there’s so much more to being an effective food copywriter.
Descriptive food writing is only one of countless skills you should look for when you’re on the hunt for a food copywriter – and it’s one of the least important. If you make it your main criteria, you’ll inevitably miss out on bucket-loads of value and ROI that more skill-diverse copywriters could offer.
Here are the seven skills you should look for in a food copywriter beyond surface-level food writing.
?? Cut to the chase and see my food copywriting portfolio.
1. Transformation-Driven Copy
Restaurant reviewers are all about description: the taste of the food, the mood of the space, the wait staff’s demeanor. The chef is the hero of the story, the guests are the audience. Restaurant reviews are a great way to highlight local stars, but they’re not designed to sell.
Food copywriters, however, are all about the transformation. The focus isn’t on the brand or even the food. The customer is the hero, and they’re about to undergo the transformation they’ve been looking for when they buy your product.
Your customers don’t read your website because they’re so curious about the tiny details your product.
They read your website because they want to know if your product will help them get from where they currently are to where they want to be.
Example: ☕ The Coffee Industry Is Way Too Focused On Features
Visit any coffee website and you’ll find these cliches over and over:
- We travel the world to source the best coffee
- Freshly roasted to maximize flavor
- Origin: Antigua, Guatemala
- Process: Washed
- Altitude: WHO CARES
This descriptive approach is the same on 99% of coffee websites, and very few give customers any reason to pick them over any other coffee roaster.
This is what makes JavaPresse so different (full disclosure, a client of mine). The end result isn’t just “great coffee, delivered to your door”. The end result is “contagious happiness”.
And JavaPresse customers LOVE it.
Takeaway: Food brands can’t settle for descriptive, delicious food writing. To really matter to your customers, you have to offer them a transformation (and good copywriters know how).
2. Customer / Competitor Research
If your transformation causes someone to say “oh cool, that’d be nice”, it won’t go very far. Your audience needs to have a “OMG I need this” response. And to get there, you need context.
Great food copywriters don’t just make your food sounds delicious. They assist with understanding why your customers would pick you over someone else before they even write the first word.
They help you discover things like…
- The main goal your audience is trying to achieve
- What value propositions are most relevant to your audience
- How you can address questions / hesitations preemptively
- The specific words / phrases your customers use
All great copy begins with great research, and any copywriter worth their salt will know how to compile it.
Takeaway: Find a copywriter who knows not only how to use customer research, but conduct the research as well.
3. User Experience And Design
Tasty-sounding food products won’t sell when your customers struggle to navigate your website, and skilled copywriters know that their copy can’t just sound good… it has to look great and be well-organized to be effective too.
Great copywriters don’t just write copy – they visualize how your audience will use it.
This is why I create low-fi wireframes when I’m working on a design-heavy project, like website copy, sales decks, or one-pagers. This extra step beyond writing helps everyone involved visualize the copy (and helps non-designer folks implement the copy in a way that won’t hurt the user experience).
Example: ? Oatly’s Website Is So Frustrating
They have stellar home page copy, but nobody is reading it, because the slider turns before you can get through the whole first paragraph.
This is why I hate sliders.
- They add ‘work’ to read all the copy
- They turn before you’re ready (so you don’t click the CTA)
- They confuse the reader on what the primary message is
Sliders are a UX nightmare.
(there are a few exceptions, but not many)
And for Oatly, it’s especially bad, because that first-slider copy is clever – but when you can’t finish a clever thought, it doesn’t come across the right way. It feels incomplete, like a joke that didn’t quite make sense.
Takeaway: Hire a food copywriter that not only understands copy, but how the copy looks, functions, and feels.
4. A Knack For Narrative
This is a skill that many food writers have. They can tell a good story – especially about a chef.
But when you’re a food brand, the story isn’t about you… it’s about your customer. They live in their story, not yours, so you have to explain how your product empowers them and helps them get to their next chapter.
This is a lot like focusing on the transformation, but it adds an important element. Your product doesn’t only get your customer from Point A to Point B, as if their lives are linear and predictable.
Your burden is to explain how your product fits into the life narrative of your customer on a deep, emotional level.
Beyond Burgers don’t just offer a one-time chance to choose plants over meat. They empower your lifestyle, your life trajectory.
NatureBox doesn’t offer a fun box of good snacks. They empower healthier habits that you can take with you into the next chapter of your now-healthier life.
Takeaway: Great copywriters can take your transformation and apply it to your customers’ life stories to create dramatic brand loyalty.
5. Thinking Critically About The Medium
Good food writing is great in an article, but can that food writer re-create that information in six different ways to speak to six kinds of readers?
The challenge of sales-driven copywriting isn’t only to write effective copy, but to write copy that’s effective for various platforms.
- Your website
- Social media
- Trade show handouts
- Case studies
- Email marketing
No two mediums demand the same kind of writing or feature the same kind of customer, and tailoring the message – or, at least, how the message is communicated – to each platform is essential.
Takeaway: Find a food copywriter who demonstrates an understanding of how various mediums work, the styles and tones they demand, and how copy feels and flows on each of them.
6. Search Engine Optimization
Search engines are getting smarter. They’re learning to prioritize content written for humans, rather than bots. However, there’s still a game to be played here.
It’s not enough to have mouthwatering product descriptions. People need to be able to find them (via search engines).
Great copywriters know what Google and others look for and the best practices for getting pages to rank high.
Nobody can guarantee a search ranking result – Google’s algorithm is a mystery, after all – but respectable digital copywriters actively educate themselves on the ever-changing skill of SEO.
Example: ? This Article Is An SEO Experiment
In early 2019, this site (garrettoden.com) rose to the Top 3 for the term “food copywriter” in Google. Around August 2019, my ranking began to decline – averaging 3.1, 3.2, 3.5 – because I stopped posting food copywriting content.
Because I am familiar with SEO principles (and know how to analyze the data in the first place), I know that by publishing this article (on food copywriting), I should be able to raise my organic ranking back to the Top 3 – but I’m shooting for #1.
⌛ Update: A year later, I rank #1 for a large variety of food copywriting terms, and this article averages ~200 monthly visitors (and generates multiple leads) per month. Success!
Takeaway: If your food copywriter has no experience with SEO, they may not be able to satisfy all your copy needs (if not now, eventually).
Speaking of content strategy and marketing for the food industry… I have a whole process for that. ?? See it here.
7. The Ability To Understand Data + Analytics
There are tons of food copywriters who can hand over good copy, but only a few can help you watch the data, diagnose problems, and come up with creative solutions to problems.
Here’s how it can look…
- Analyzing visitor data – like page analytics and heatmaps – and discovering trends
- Understanding what those trends mean (readers are confused, copy not convincing, ect)
- Tackling a Round 2 in a way that addresses those problems
Without a copywriter who can help you look at the data and solve problems, you’re left powerless, saying “Well, it didn’t work. That sucks.”
Takeaway: A great copywriter is not only interested in the copy, but the outcome (and is probably willing to track the results with you to make sure they can use them in a case study!).
Food copywriters are a dime-a-dozen – and you may not even need one with all of these skills. But if you want to get it done right the first time (and not have to hire someone to fix a previous writer’s mess), you should look for someone with as many of these skills as possible.
They indicate that someone is not only a skilled writer, but that they’re customer-oriented, goal-driven, and actively learning to improve their services.
If finding a copywriter like this seems like a daunting challenge, let me know. I happen to know one.