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At a recent editorial meeting of Saveur, editors learned they had secured the services of a writer who was chronicling his search for the morel mushroom in the woods of Minnesota.

There was one catch, though. The only way to reach him on deadline was to call the local radio station, which would broadcast a message several times a day.

That kind of commitment has helped put the magazine on the map.

"We go out and find the stories," says Dorothy Kalins, editor in chief. "We want to connect with readers on more than one level. We want to be authentic and deep, the last word on a given subject."

Combining food with travel and culture is what this specialty magazine is about. But it's how the magazine has become a circulation-driven success story that's generated a buzz in the ad agency community and, ultimately, earned it the honor of Advertising Age Magazine of the Year.


This new title consciously bucked prevailing trends for food titles such as Bon Appetit and Gourmet at Conde Nast Publications, Cooking Light at Time Inc., and Eating Well, a joint venture of Hachette Filipacchi and Telemedia.

"If everyone does low-fat casserole, pretty soon there will be no more real casserole," says Executive Editor Colman Andrews, who looks like he could fit in a crowd of longshoremen in a pub after a hard day at the docks. Instead, he's a cookbook author and food writer of national note.

He had no worries about showing eight flanks of steak on a recent cover-but expects readers to be sophisticated enough to know they should not indulge in that kind of meal all the time.

"A lot of people are embarrassed about food," he says. "We like to just gently remind them that food is something that connects them to their family, to their religion, to their culture . . ."

Ms. Kalins is quick to complete the thought: "It's a way to connect to other cultures."

So far, they have struck a responsive chord with many of the high-end advertisers looking for Saveur's affluent readers.

"They were smart," says Walter Staab, president of New York-based SFM Media Corp., which last year made the magazine one of the rare new titles purchased by client Chubb Insurance Group. "They made a high-risk gamble in a narrow niche and invested heavily in production quality."


The result, he says, is "an elegant magazine-there's no other way to describe it. When you lay all the other magazines in the category side by side, Saveur really stands out."

That goes back to the guiding philosophy of Chris Meigher, president-CEO of parent Meigher Communications, and Joe Armstrong, publishing director.

"We wanted to create magazines that catered to the affluent baby-boomer generation," says Mr. Armstrong, 52, who began catering to the boomers 20 years ago when he was the publisher of Rolling Stone.


In 1994, he teamed with Mr. Meigher, now 50, a former top executive at Time Inc. Mr. Meigher had lined up extensive financing from backers such as investment banking company Allen & Co. and AT&T Corp., and with a number of other former Time Inc. executives launched the new company, Meigher Communications, in early 1994.

At the time, Mr. Meigher says he felt many publishers were artificially pumping up their circulation to deliver lots of readers for advertisers.

He had a radically different idea`Saveur' Magazine of the Year

deliver a core base of highly committed readers that advertisers would pay to reach.

"If we catered to their passions, I felt we could get readers to pay more," he says. "And that advertisers would be willing to pay to reach them."


Messrs. Armstrong and Meigher gambled that Americans would eventually embrace an upscale magazine providing a new perspective to travel and food.

To be sure, there were some anxious moments.

After the magazine's launch in the summer of '94, Saveur executives conducted a focus group study. Mr. Armstrong noticed no one mentioned the magazine's name during the session-ordinarily not a good sign.

Finally, one member of the focus group confided that nobody was really sure how to pronounce the title-but they did like the magazine.

"They told us, don't change the name just because we can't pronounce it yet. We like the cachet,'*" says Mr. Armstrong.

Three years later, that initial hunch has proven correct. If some Americans still have some difficulty pronouncing the title, it appears not to matter to them or to Madison Avenue.

The magazine's ad pages were up 21.2% in 1996 to 394.9, according to Publishers Information Bureau. In its first year of eligibility last April, Saveur picked up two National Magazine Award. No magazine had ever pulled that trick in its first year.

But the true reflection of its vitality is the circulation picture.


It sells single copies for a hefty $5 an issue and sells 94% of its subscriptions for a basic subscription price of $4 per issue. In contrast, some competitors sell more than half their subscriptions at less than the basic subscription price.

"I think the formula makes all the sense in the world," says Dan Capell, editor in chief of newsletter Capell's Circulation Report. "I'm keeping my eye on them."

In the second half of 1996, paid circulation continued its meteoric climb to 250,122, up 59.8% from the second half of '95. That was on top of a 49.4% circulation gain, to to 204,436, in the first half of '96.

"I think they're pretty hot. I don't think there are a lot of other magazines out there that are being driven by reader demand," says Alan Jurmain, executive director of media services at Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, who has run ads for Mercedes-Benz of North America and spirits importer Paddington Corp. in the magazine.

By September of this year, Mr. Meigher estimates the magazine will be turning a profit, after an investment he estimates at $10 million to $11 million.


The founders have now raised their circulation sights. Says Mr. Meigher: "I think you'll see 500,000 by the end of the century."

But don't expect him to start pumping up the circulation with sweepstakes and premium prizes.

"It has to grow naturally," he says. Just like those morel mushrooms in Minnesota.

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