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Ricardo: For The Love Of Food, Family, Magazines And Canada… The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Marie-Josè Desmarais, Publisher & Denis Chamberland, CEO – Ricardo Magazine.

November 5, 2015

From Canada With Love…

“One of the big things that have come out of this is that, perhaps some people thought we were crazy to launch a paper product a year ago; people were looking at us and saying, are you sure you want to do this and we said yes, absolutely. We believe in magazines in the food category and we believe there’s a market and we believe we have something great to offer. And we were confident that it would work and we were right. Actually, people welcome new magazines when you’re doing them the right way, because you’ve seen what’s happened in past years; a lot of publishers have been their own worst enemies, with smaller editorial ratios and decreasing the overall quality of the magazine, such as the paper.” Marie-Josè Desmarais

Ricardo 5-6 Celebrity chef, Ricardo Larrivée, brings his highly successful brand to the English/Canadian audience with Ricardo Magazine’s English language version of the 14-year-old French magazine. The launch of the English version of the print publication happened a little over a year ago and according to Marie-Josè Desmarais, Ricardo Magazine’s publisher, the response has been totally positive.

I spoke with Marie-Josè recently and Denis Chamberland, CEO of the magazine, and the conversation served to reinforce the extreme fascination the buying public has with the food category in today’s market even more than the obvious explosion of food titles on newsstands does. It has become the “celebrity” section when it comes to magazine popularity.

We identified several reasons why this phenomenon might be taking place, along with the success of Ricardo’s latest metamorphosis, possible future plans of a more southern expansion for the magazine, and how it was to work with Ricardo himself, because it’s a given, when your brand has a living, breathing persona things can get interesting.

It was an enlightening conversation with two people who value their brand, adore and respect the man it was named for, and have very definitive goals when it comes to the future of the newest addition to the Ricardo family.

So, turn the oven on and get ready to be deliciously motivated as you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Marie-Josè Desmarais, Publisher & Denis Chamberland, CEO, Ricardo Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:


On the genesis of Ricardo Magazine (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
The magazine is new in English, but it’s not new in French, we’re into our 14th year in French, so it has been founded for a while. And Ricardo started the company. As a chef, he started out as a food columnist; he was a TV personality and then he had his own show. So, it’s been like an organic growth that happened with his brand and he is very charismatic.

Ricardo Publisher and CEO On why they decided to launch the English language version of Ricardo in Canada now (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
In order to become a success in English Canada, you really have to be tough because it’s a difficult market. In English Canada we compete against international titles, especially U.S. titles. The distribution process is extremely complex, that’s why we enlist the aid of our Consulting Circulation Executive, Tracey McKinley, who used to head circulation at Rogers Publishing. And you need a lot of money and you need to be very solid as a company, and we’re a private company. We’re not one of those giant companies that have a lot of assets in the market; we have a lot of assets in Québec, but we had to feel that we were very solid in order to do it. And that’s what decided it.

On that “aha” moment when all the planets were aligned and they decided to launch the magazine (Denis Chamberland):
I think Marie-Josè just said it; you have to be financially sound to launch a magazine and it was the right time for us to do so. But we had been thinking about it for years. We were dreaming about being Canada’s cooking magazine. But it was the right time financially to do it and to do it well.

On the most pleasant moment during this magazine journey (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
I’m an ex-editor, so I was publisher on this one. Seeing the first issue is always an amazing moment, when it’s off the printer’s, you know paper still holds its magic. But we did a big launch event on Dundas Square to launch the brand in Toronto. We were all there and we took a train with our clients. We fed people, it was a fun lunch event, and that, for us, was a very natural thing for our company. We love to feed people. And that was the day that we officially launched the magazine.

On the major stumbling block they’ve had to face with the launch of the magazine: That’s a good question. I don’t think there was a massive stumbling block. Obviously, we’re in a market where advertising sales can be a challenge. We’re coming with a big success, and having the success of Fringe behind us opened the door for advertising, so there was really nothing. Everything we’ve heard has been positive. You know, things like, you’re finally launching it or I’m so happy you’re doing it after all these years.

On how it is to work with Ricardo when putting together an issue of the magazine (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
Well, for example, he’ll come into the room where we’re working and entertain us for an hour and a half. He’s just so energetic and there are absolutely no horror stories when it comes to working with Ricardo. The person you see in the magazine or on television is authentic. What you see is what you get. He’s inspiring, dynamic, and full of energy and he tastes everything when he goes around the kitchen.

On the reaction from the English/Canadian market since the magazine has been out (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
Very positive. It was, at last we have a Ricardo magazine. Journalists were all over it; we had very good press I don’t remember seeing anything negative about our magazine. It was all positive and it was gorgeous.

On whether they believe in the future of a print product in this digital age (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
Yes, but we also believe in digital. We invest a lot in in digital. If you look at our website, it’s very, very high-quality and we do invest a lot in our website. We would not invest only in paper. We believe in catching our reader where they want to be. We think that print, for food; our food magazine is like a reference book, a cookbook that’s published six times per year. Nobody ever throws a Ricardo issue away; it’s not for recycling, it’s for consultation. And we believe people go onto the website when they, let’s say, need a quick chicken recipe.

On why they think the food category is so fascinating to audiences right now (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
It’s a cultural phenomenon right now. I think yes, it’s a trend, like there have been lots of trends, but it’s not a fast-moving trend. It’s been slowly building for years and it’s all about connecting people around the meal and the table; it’s not just about eating something delicious. It’s: why do you cook; why do you prepare that? It’s because you want to serve something great to your friends and family. There’s something very generous about that and very calming in these stressful times. We find that food media are like a refuge.

On whether the goal of the magazine is the same as Ricardo’s wish, for everyone who sits down at the table to be at ease and happy (Marie-Josè Desmarais): It is. We want people to sit together and enjoy the meal and that’s the goal. It’s not about competing to make the most complicated dessert; it’s about creating something good for you, delicious, and that will please everyone around the table and also make the cook proud. That’s one of the most important things.

On any future plans to bring Ricardo Magazine further south, across the border (Denis Chamberland):
We would love to see our magazine across the border, so I suppose it’s possible.

On why if expanding across the border is possible, each issue focuses on being “Canada’s Cooking Magazine” (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
Another good question. We want to be noticed because we’re a new title. We also want our audience to know that this is a Canadian magazine that’s tailored to their needs. But the recipes will work in any country. It’s not Canadian food. It’s international-level food, but it’s packaged specially for Canadians.

On her decision to move from a former editor of magazines to the publisher of Ricardo (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
I was an editor-in-chief years ago before I came to Ricardo. I came to Ricardo as a publisher. One of my former bosses, who was the president of Rogers Publishing at the time, Brian Segal, said famously, “You can’t make an editor out of a publisher, but you can make a publisher out of an editor.” And he had started doing that and he was the first in the business who started putting editors in publishers’ positions, and that started around 2007/2008 when the market was really difficult.

On whether she’s more of a content-provider or an experience-maker (Marie-Josè Desmarais):
Both. To me it’s the same thing. I don’t see a difference. It depends on the medium. But in Ricardo it’s sitting around the table and everybody is happy eating that lasagna. That’s contentment. That’s what we do.

On what keeps Marie-Josè up at night:
What keeps me up at night is how to get to the next step and just working the new ideas, working them up. And there are so many options; it’s more about where you start. And I reword the puzzle all of the time. A few years ago we didn’t have so many options in the magazine world; it was a very simple, straightforward business. But today, there are so many things you can do.

On what keeps Denis up at night:
Sometimes I would like to go faster, so sometimes I’m thinking about our future and that can keep me up at night because I would like to have our products in other countries and it’s not possible to do too many things at the same time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Marie-Josè Desmarais, Publisher, & Denis Chamberland, CEO, Ricardo Magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me the genesis of Ricardo Magazine. I know the tagline is New! Canada’s Cooking Magazine, but Ricardo has a history, such as 18 years on television in France and then 8 years in Canada. How did the idea for Ricardo Magazine start?

Ricardo 4-5E

Ricardo 3-3F Marie-Josè Desmarais: The magazine is new in English, but it’s not new in French, we’re into our 14th year in French, so it has been founded for a while. And Ricardo started the company. As a chef, he started out as a food columnist; he was a TV personality and then he had his own show. So, it’s been like an organic growth that happened with his brand and he is very charismatic.

Denis Chamberland: It was natural for Ricardo to launch a magazine because as a columnist, people really liked him and they wanted more content from him than once a week in the paper.

Samir Husni: Why did it take so long for you to launch the English language version of the magazine in Canada, considering that Martha Stewart started this trend about 20 years ago in the States and then Rachael Ray? It would seem that “food” has become the new celebrity when it comes to magazines. So, why did you decide to launch Ricardo in English in Canada now?

Denis Chamberland: We were waiting for somebody as special as Marie-Josè Desmarais to launch a magazine in English.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: (Laughs). We were waiting for the right moment. Launching a magazine in Québec is different. Are you familiar with Québec?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Business in Québec is very particular. We do have our own system and it’s a place on earth where local magazines sell really well. That’s why we had Elle Québec very early, like 20 years ago.

So, in order to become a success in English Canada, you really have to be tough because it’s a difficult market. In English Canada we compete against international titles, especially U.S. titles. The distribution process is extremely complex, that’s why we enlist the aid of our Consulting Circulation Executive, Tracey McKinley, who used to head circulation at Rogers Publishing. And you need a lot of money and you need to be very solid as a company, and we’re a private company. We’re not one of those giant companies that have a lot of assets in the market; we have a lot of assets in Québec, but we had to feel that we were very solid in order to do it. And that’s what decided it.

Samir Husni: And at that point of conception when you got that “aha” moment and said, let’s do it; can you relive that a little?

Denis Chamberland: I think Marie-Josè just said it; you have to be financially sound to launch a magazine and it was the right time for us to do so. But we had been thinking about it for years. We were dreaming about being Canada’s cooking magazine. But it was the right time financially to do it and to do it well.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment in this journey?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: I’m an ex-editor, so I was publisher on this one. Seeing the first issue is always an amazing moment, when it’s off the printer’s, you know paper still holds its magic. But we did a big launch event on Dundas Square to launch the brand in Toronto. We were all there and we took a train with our clients. We fed people, it was a fun lunch event, and that, for us, was a very natural thing for our company. We love to feed people. And that was the day that we officially launched the magazine. We met directly with our future readers.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block you’ve had to face with this launch and how did you overcome it?

Ricardo poster Marie-Josè Desmarais: That’s a good question. I don’t think there was a massive stumbling block. Obviously, we’re in a market where advertising sales can be a challenge. We’re coming with a big success, and having the success of Fringe behind us opened the door for advertising, so there was really nothing. Everything we’ve heard has been positive. You know, things like, you’re finally launching it or I’m so happy you’re doing it after all these years.

And for the record, we had launched in English years ago, very briefly, when we were with Gesca in France. We launched for about two years and that was around 2007 or so. We were partners with Gesca, it was a soft launch then, with a small circulation. But then Ricardo decided to buy back his shares and become the sole owner of his company.

In that context, it was not sustainable. It didn’t make sense, so Ricardo decided at that time that he wanted to wait and do it big and on his own terms. So, that’s what happened.

Denis Chamberland: And with original content in English. With that first launch, more or less, it was a translation of the magazine. And we don’t want that. We have a magazine for Canadians and it’s great new content for them.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: If you look at the magazine; if you look at it in French and English, you have the same cover and it does look like the same magazine as the French version, but if you look at it more closely, you’ll see that our columnists are English/Canadian for the English/Canadian version of the magazine out of respect for our readers. Not because our columnists aren’t good, but we want to encourage the business here and also we want to have a truly Canadian voice, so we’re adapting to the market. You’ll see that throughout the issue; it’s very important for us to have those columnists. We also adapt the content.

Samir Husni: Sometimes I hear fun stories about working with celebrities when it comes to creating a magazine and sometimes I hear horror stories; describe a typical workday with Ricardo as you’re creating an issue of the magazine.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Well, for example, he’ll come into the room where we’re working and entertain us for an hour and a half. He’s just so energetic and there are absolutely no horror stories when it comes to working with Ricardo. The person you see in the magazine or on television is authentic. What you see is what you get. He’s inspiring, dynamic, and full of energy and he tastes things when he goes around the kitchen.

Samir Husni: And what has been the reaction coming from the English/Canadian market since the magazine has been out?

Ricardo 1-1 Marie-Josè Desmarais: Very positive. It was, at last we have a Ricardo magazine. Journalists were all over it; we had very good press I don’t remember seeing anything negative about our magazine. It was all positive and it was gorgeous.

One of the big things that have come out of this is that, perhaps some people thought we were crazy to launch a paper product a year ago; people were looking at us and saying, are you sure you want to do this and we said yes, absolutely. We believe in magazines in the food category and we believe there’s a market and we believe we have something great to offer.

And we also believe that the only way we could do this magazine was to go high-quality, very good paper quality and excellent photography; a very high editorial ratio versus advertising, and then do it in a deliberate way, not a desperate way. Our ratio is always 70% editorial, with a high cover price of $7.99. At launch it was $6.99, which is pretty high in this market.

But we decided to go with quality; to do a statement of quality and excellence. And we were confident that it would work and we were right. Actually, people welcome new magazines when you’re doing them the right way, because you’ve seen what’s happened in past years; a lot of publishers have been their own worst enemies, with smaller editorial ratios and decreasing the overall quality of the magazine, such as the paper. And we respect American publishers, everybody works hard, but we really believe we have a good recipe for success.

Samir Husni: So you believe in the future of a printed product in this digital age?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Yes, but we also believe in digital. We invest a lot in in digital. If you look at our website, it’s very, very high-quality and we do invest a lot in our website. We would not invest only in paper.

Denis Chamberland: We believe in both.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Yes, we do. We believe in catching our reader where they want to be. We think that print, for food; our food magazine is like a reference book, a cookbook that’s published six times per year. Nobody ever throws a Ricardo issue away; it’s not for recycling, it’s for consultation. And we believe people go onto the website when they, let’s say, need a quick chicken recipe. And they can go onto our website and find it. So, you go to both platforms for different reasons.

Samir Husni: Why do you think the food category, specifically in print magazines, has become the celebrity category of the 21st century, compared to the end of the 20th century when it was actual celebrities and other topics? Now, suddenly, it’s food. In the United States more food titles are published on a weekly basis, whether it’s bookazines or digest-sized, than in any other category. Why do you think there’s such a fascination with food today?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: (Laughs) That’s a big social and cultural question.

Denis Chamberland: I think people have become very health conscious; they want to take care of themselves. Same as running has never been so popular. Food is part of that movement.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: And it’s also a cultural phenomenon right now. I think yes, it’s a trend, like there have been lots of trends, but it’s not a fast-moving trend. It’s been slowly building for years and it’s all about connecting people around the meal and the table; it’s not just about eating something delicious. It’s: why do you cook; why do you prepare that? It’s because you want to serve something great to your friends and family. There’s something very generous about that and very calming in these stressful times. We find that food media are like a refuge.

And I also think that people are more informed now with the speed of communications. You can go and look at a restaurant menu where you can find out exactly what’s being served in Copenhagen or somewhere in Brazil; so it’s part of our world culture.

Samir Husni: I read Ricardo’s editorial in this issue and he wants everyone to feel at ease and happy when they’re sitting around the table. Is that also the goal with the magazine?

Ricardo 2-2 Marie-Josè Desmarais: It is. We want people to sit together and enjoy the meal and that’s the goal. It’s not about competing to make the most complicated dessert; it’s about creating something good for you, delicious, and that will please everyone around the table and also make the cook proud. That’s one of the most important things. And that the recipes are no-fail. And why, you might ask, are they no-fail? It’s because they’re tested to death; we don’t triple-test, we test 12 times if we need to. We test until it’s perfect. This magazine is about making people happy and proud to serve something great to family and friends.

Samir Husni: Are there any future plans to expand Ricardo’s borders, such as going a little more toward the south from Canada?

Denis Chamberland: We would love to see our magazine across the border, so I suppose it’s possible.

Samir Husni: So, why the focus on every issue as “Canada’s Cooking Magazine?”

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Another good question. We want to be noticed because we’re a new title. We also want our audience to know that this is a Canadian magazine that’s tailored to their needs. So, for instance, all of the ingredients that we talk about in our recipes will be available in most Canadian grocers. The wines we talk about are available at wine stores and the novelties, if you’re talking about a cookbook or a jar of jam; it doesn’t matter, everything is easily available. And that’s very highly appreciated by our audience. We’ve gotten a lot of comments that say, at last, a magazine that’s made in Canada and that helps me in my everyday life. You can find everything in it easily.

But the recipes will work in any country. It’s not Canadian food. It’s international-level food, but it’s packaged specially for Canadians.

Samir Husni: We are finding out that identification with the audience is very important. You’re looking for customers who count, rather than counting customers.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Exactly. I love the way you said that.

Samir Husni: And that’s what grabbed me with Ricardo. I had heard about it before, but I had never seen it until recently. It certainly grabbed my attention.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Thank you. I’m glad you liked it.

Samir Husni: As a journalist-turned-publisher, how easy or hard was that decision for you? Or was it simply easy because who could better explain the magazine than a journalist or editor?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: I was an editor-in-chief years ago before I came to Ricardo. I came to Ricardo as a publisher. One of my former bosses, who was the president of Rogers Publishing at the time, Brian Segal, said famously, “You can’t make an editor out of a publisher, but you can make a publisher out of an editor.” And he had started doing that and he was the first in the business who started putting editors in publishers’ positions, and that started around 2007/2008 when the market was really difficult. He said that content was the driving force behind the success in magazines and that’s why he decided to put editors in those positions.

Samir Husni: Do you believe it’s the content that drives magazines or is it the experience-making? Are you more of a content-provider or an experience-maker?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: Both. To me it’s the same thing. I don’t see a difference. It depends on the medium. But in Ricardo it’s sitting around the table and everybody is happy eating that lasagna. That’s contentment. That’s what we do.

But it’s not just the thing about circulation strategies, which are very important or advertising sales strategies and all of those business models that you’ve seen in magazines where you would inflate your circulation at a very high cost in order to get more money from advertisers without really caring about your audience. That’s not what we do. We do a great product, a great magazine with great content and great recipes, and the rest comes.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: You’ll see us in paper, but you’ll also see us in digital as well; whatever platform people want to consume their content on.

Denis Chamberland: It’s the same experience and the same great content and the same audience.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get up in the mornings and say it’s going to be a great day?

Denis Chamberland: Creating great content.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: That’s it.

Denis Chamberland: Make sure people relate to the brand more and more, day after day.

Marie-Josè Desmarais: I agree.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Marie-Josè Desmarais: What keeps me up at night is how to get to the next step and just working the new ideas, working them up. And there are so many options; it’s more about where you start. And I reword the puzzle all of the time. A few years ago we didn’t have so many options in the magazine world; it was a very simple, straightforward business. But today, there are so many things you can do. You just want to pick the right path. With a small company we can rewrite that path if we have to and adapt it to the new reality.

Denis Chamberland: Sometimes I would like to go faster, so sometimes I’m thinking about our future and that can keep me up at night because I would like to have our products in other countries and it’s not possible to do too many things at the same time. We’re working on this new product that we launched last year and we want to make sure that it’s a success.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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