From independent restaurants to Deliveroo, food blogs play an important role in promoting restaurants and brands of all sizes. How do they support both worlds without contradiction?

In the dynamic and saturated world of having a food blog, finding the balance between supporting independent restaurants and collaborating with big brands can be a real struggle. These influencers manoeuvre between the lines of building corporate contacts and relationships while staying true to their audience and roots. 

Laura Middleton

Laura Middleton is an established food blogger and photographer on Instagram (@geordie.scran) where she has amassed over 20,000 followers over the last 5 years. 

Laura holds herself to a high standard of reviewing and has in time built a loyal audience of foodies that trust her. 

She explained: “Quite a few people have gone to my recommendations off the back of posts. I’m always very authentic with my reviews and if something’s not great, I’ll say so.”

Word of mouth is vital for small, independent food businesses. From the moment they launch they are thrown into the deep end. They are forced to engage in dog fights for customers against big chain restaurants with substantial marketing budgets. 

According to a study by Writers Block Live, 85% of small businesses gain new local customers thanks to word of mouth referrals. This statistic alone proves the value of people like Laura who have a food blog and provide trusted recommendations to their audience while getting smaller food businesses on the map. 

With the food scene changing dramatically within the last 10 years, the UK has seen a diverse range of restaurants popping up in major cities like Newcastle. How exactly do food bloggers balance what they fancy eating on the day with the kind of food their audience wants to see them review? 

“I love colourful, small plates and bright curries but the stuff that does good on social media is dripping in grease and cheese. I like a burger every now and again but I don’t have as much of an interest in them as my audience” 

Laura’s ethos is to support and spread the word about small food businesses. Although Indian food is her favourite, she rarely reviews somewhere twice (unless it’s really nice). This way she can focus on new reviews and support a wide range of her local food community.

As any influencer grows in popularity, so do the interested parties willing to collaborate with them. Influencers can go from doing a job for fun to making it a source of income. This opens the door for all sorts of big brand opportunities.

Unlike a lot of the food industry Laura’s popularity grew exponentially during lockdown where she hit 10,000 followers. She changed her tactic after getting a few messages from businesses saying they were still open for takeaway. She jumped on this idea and began reviewing takeaways. 

For small businesses one of the first ports of call for advertising their brand appears to be collaborations with influencers. James Tulley, owner of Deja Street Food in Teeside began using food bloggers regularly to promote his business in lockdown seeing it more as a business cost than just giving people free food.

He said: “During lockdown, every week I would always gift a meal to a food blogger. It was like a business cost. I think a meal was like 40 pounds for two people. It’s a small amount of money to pay for that kind of exposure.”

With Laura exponentially growing in popularity over lockdown it was only a matter of time before the big brands wanted a slice. She was contacted by Deliveroo to collaborate and also feature in an advert with Ninja kitchen. She had hit the big time.

“I kind of started getting more collabs with brands like Deliveroo, pizza hut, all like  mind blowing and then did an advert with Ninja Kitchen, which was crazy and still baffles me.” 

Although Laura still remained very vocal about supporting local businesses she received some backlash from a few people about collaborating with big names like Deliveroo.

“I get a lot of people say, ‘no, but you’ve been to this place and it’s a chain and you say you support the locals’ and I get that. However, this needs to tick a box somewhere as well, so that it can go back into our local food businesses.”

A food blog can only go so far without collaborations. While Laura continues to champion local businesses in the North East she needs the collaborations as well. The work she does with bigger brands means she can put more time and money into her local food community. 

“I’ll post a few things about them, they’ll pay me and I’ll be putting that money back into the local businesses, that is really important.”

Laura middleton