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With the holiday season in full swing, epicurean magazines have their own reasons to celebrate.

The category's leading titles -- Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Gourmet and Saveur -- all saw strong growth in circulation and ad pages this year. But 1998 is expected to be more challenging, as publishers seek out new advertisers and try to define brand identities for their titles to separate them from the pack.

American Express Publishing Corp.'s Food & Wine will unveil a new, more contemporary logo with the January issue, the culmination of nine months of tweaking by the new design director, Stephen Scoble. The aim is to enhance the magazine's appeal to younger, more affluent readers.


So far, the changes appear to be paying off. The monthly raised its rate base 3% to 775,000 in October, and Publisher Julie McGowan said ad pages for the year hit 845, a gain of 18% over 1996.

Meigher Communications' Saveur is also raising its rate base, although it remains relatively small in circulation compared to competitors. Its rate base rises in January from 300,000 to 330,000.

Ad pages for Saveur increased 28% over 1996 to 506 pages.

"They can slug it out for the biggest circulation," Saveur Publisher David Kahn said of his rivals. "Our goal is quality, not quantity."

According to Joe Armstrong, Meigher Communications' publishing director, Saveur ended its fiscal year with "a six-figure profit," after three years and four months of publishing.

Saveur's sell is based on premium pricing to readers, a tactic Food & Wine is adopting by raising its average subscription price to $24.35. Saveur is increasing its price from $24 to $29.95.


The category's largest-circulation title is Conde Nast Publications' Bon Appetit, with a rate base of 1 million. While ad pages in '97 were flat -- 885, compared to 881 in '96 -- Publisher Lynn Heiler said 1998 is already looking up, with 148 pages of new business booked for the first quarter from such advertisers as Saab Cars USA, Volkswagen of America, Mercedes-Benz of North America, Rolex Watch USA and Pella Corp.

Conde Nast's Gourmet remains the category leader in ad pages. Under new Publisher Gina Sanders, it maintains its 56-year-old tagline as "The magazine of good living," a positioning she said will be emphasized next year in marketing programs.

Ms. Sanders is also pushing to win more beauty and fashion advertisers, and claims success with such marketers as Revlon Consumer Products Corp., Nautica Enterprises, BabyGap and Calvin Klein Cosmetics Co.

"The category is hot," Ms. Sanders said. "There is a confluence of baby boomers maturing and an increasingly busy lifestyle. Both of those trends are good for Gourmet, because a busier lifestyle increases the need for relaxation and good living."

Gourmet finished the year with 1,239 ad pages, up 4.4% over 1996.


Advertisers said each of the category's top books has already carved a unique position for itself.

"Taken as a whole, I think they seem very much alike. But if you read them, they really all have a different take that reaches a different audience," said Patricia Barroll, VP-marketing communications for Carillon Importers, which buys space for its brands in all four of the magazines. "It all comes back to the trend of people wanting to entertain at home, drink well, eat well, dress well and live well. It's about enjoying life."

Bob Manni, senior VP-group director at Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, agreed: "From a media buying perspective, they are four distinctly different books. They are all good, solid books in a strong overall category that is growing as more

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