Food and drink books - a healthy market

Jackie Swope
Opinion - Books Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Jackie Swope reports on the rise of healthy eating and veggie books

For 2019 so far, Pinch of Nom by Kay Featherstone and Kate Allinson leads the UK print book chart, by a sizeable amount (and that's an understatement). The debut cookbook broke records in the UK earlier this year for the highest first week sales for any non-fiction book, and it has now sold more than 1 million copies, plus more than 100,000 for the Pinch of Nom Food Planner, with another follow-up due out before Christmas. It's already the sixth bestselling cookbook since BookScan began in 1998, and will undoubtedly keep moving up the list in the coming months. The five books ahead of Pinch of Nom are: Jamie's 30-Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver); Lean in 15 (Joe Wicks); 5 Ingredients (Jamie Oliver); Jamie's 15-Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver); and Delia's How To Cook: Book One (Delia Smith).

"The presence of a Health, Dieting & Wholefood Cookery book at the top of the chart shouldn't shock anyone who has been paying attention to the cookery market in recent years"

Perhaps the name Pinch of Nom took some by surprise, if they weren't aware of the popular food blog, but the presence of a Health, Dieting & Wholefood Cookery book at the top of the chart shouldn't shock anyone who has been paying attention to the cookery market in recent years, as healthy eating books have gained a higher profile. Dave Myers & Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers, initially led the category to more than 1 million in sales back in 2013, and it hasn't dropped below that threshold since. It remains to be seen if 2019 will match the Joe Wicks-driven peak of 2016, but to mid-September, the category's sales have already surpassed full-year sales for every year before 2015. Even if we focus on the top 100 Food & Drink books each year, the market shift of the past decade is apparent.

With the successes of the past few years, Health, Dieting & Wholefood Cookery is pretty well established by this point (but still capable of making waves, as evidenced by Pinch of Nom), leaving room for Vegetarian Cookery as the emerging category of the moment. More vegetarian books were bought in 2018 than in 2016 and 2017 combined, and for 2019 so far, the category is already ahead of full-year sales for every year other than 2018. A quarter of the top 100 cookbooks for this year are vegetarian- or vegan-focused, with some leading authors solely veggie-based, like Henry Firth and Ian Theasby with their BOSH! books, while others shift over from other categories, among them Joe Wicks with Veggie Lean in 15 and Jamie Oliver with Veg.

Even with the influence of big names at the top of the chart (Veggie Lean in 15, Veg and the two BOSH! titles cover more than 40% of sales this year), our monthly consumer survey shows that Vegetarian Cookery purchases are less likely than other categories to be driven by the author. While 16% of vegetarian purchases since the start of 2018 were influenced by the author, containing the right information and the description of the book appear more important (along with subject and price, which are the top two influences for cookery sales overall).

Buyers of vegetarian cookbooks also show a higher tendency to be swayed by recommendations and reviews, reading an extract and looking inside, and the book seeming to be the best on the subject. There may be an ever-increasing number of these cookbooks on shop shelves, but with Vegetarian Cookery still something of a niche area, buyers are taking care to ensure that the contents of the books fit their expectations and the recipes are worth the purchase.

Jackie Swope is publisher account manager at Nielsen Book Research. For more information and to purchase Nielsen's recent report on the UK Food & Drink book market, contact

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Book Fair Show Daily.

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