This 17-year-old vegan food blogger added over 1M followers just on Reels

In under two years, Maya Leinenbach has become the top vegan food creator in Germany and is poised to launch her own food brand

Vegan recipes are having a moment online. But even taking into consideration the current popularity of vegan cuisine, the growth that the “Fitgreenmind” account on Instagram has shown is incredible—as is the fact that the account’s brainchild is only a youngster herself. 17-year-old Maya Leinenbach from Germany told OMR what strategies and growth levers she employed to add over 1M followers in a year, and how publishing daily Instagram videos and writing a vegan cookbook has helped her build an international community.

“Cooking has always been a passion of mine. In fact, my mother and I have always dreamed of writing our own cookbook,” Maya Leinenbach tells OMR. “But simply publishing a cookbook isn’t going to compel people to read it. So that’s how I started posting my recipes on Instagram.” “Fitgreenmind” was born – the Instagram account and brand behind Leinenbach’s food endeavor. To this day, she uploads a new recipe, created by her own hand and 100% vegan, every single day. “When I started with the channel in 2019, I had just become vegan and was experimenting with a broad spectrum of recipes.” Her daily recipes have appeared to struck a chord with her community. There are over 1.1 million subscribers to “Fitgreenmind” and growth is trending heavily upwards. A far cry from the 70K followers she had this time last year.

Every day a new recipe

“What annoyed me with so many vegan recipes was that they were so complicated. I live in a small town and didn’t have access to many of the ingredients,” says Leinenbach. “My primary goal with my content is to try to keep my recipes as simple as possible. I also try to veganize many traditional dishes. At the same time, I draw inspiration from various international cuisines and try new things frequently myself. It’s a lot of trial and error.” That’s how everything from lasagna to Nasi Goreng to chocolate chip cookies and vegan parmigiano end up on her Instagram channel. Trial and error. The short videos show the final product and then rapid-fire clips of the most important steps—and everything is accompanied by Leinenbach’s jovial commentary.

And it’s here where you’ll find what figures to be Leinenbach’s recipe for success: easy-to-understand recipes as Instagram Reels, which always feature a thumbnail of the appetizing finished product. Typically, it only takes a few days before the 17-year-old’s videos have been watched over 1M times; top-performing videos reach close to 6M views. “I started out not really knowing much about the format and just published images to the feed,” says Leinenbach. “When Reels went live, I didn’t really use it. But I soon saw how creators who focussed on Reels were growing quickly. So I gave it a try.”

Reels bring a growth booming

It’s then by watching other influencers—and therefore nearly by coincidence—that Leinenbach stumbles across the perfect format for her food blog. “Switching to Reels really helped the account take off. The second Reel generated a million views. Within two months, I went from 70,000 to 200,000 followers,” she says. “Reels is a much more personal format. I address my community directly and explain the recipes. I never even appeared in earlier posts.” One of the biggest incentives for influencers to use Reels is that Instagram continues to push the format and that top-performing videos are shown to users who are not yet subscribers to the respective creator account.

Instagram-Follower-Wachstum von Fitgreenmind

Follower growth for “Fitgreenmind” (Source: Infludata)

The growth on “Fitgreenmind,” as we now know, did not max out at 200,000 followers. Social analytics tool “Infludata” shows just how quickly growth happened for Leinenbach and “Fitgreenmind.” From April to October 2020, the account goes from about 40,000 subscribers to 70,000. By the time the new year arrives, there are 300,000 subscribers; by summer 800,000 and by late September 2021, it’s over the 1M mark. Another crucial factor in Leinenbach’s success seems to be the sheer volume of output. There is a new recipe published to Reels everyday—although she’s still in school. “I spend my Saturdays producing the videos for the week. Sundays are for post-editing. That affords me time during the week for school and other activities.”

A cookbook and other projects

Leinenbach wields her new found reach for various influencer deals and to realize the dream of her own cookbook. “As the reach increased, so too did the demand in the community for a cookbook—which was also a passion project of mine,” she says. Her book, entitled “Ooh, that’s vegan?” was published on October 7 and is available in Europe and the USA. “My community is quite international, with the bulk stemming from the United States and Germany,” she says. That also helps explain why her Reels contain descriptions in German and English—and why her cookbook is available in those two languages.

German food retailer Globus is one of the aforementioned influencer deals. In Reels that feature her partner company, Leinenbach films herself shopping at a Globus market, where she picks up the ingredients she needs for her next recipe. She also has partnered with dietary supplement company Rocka, whose products she also features in her recipes.

She says that the first step in the monetization of her reach was, however, an entirely different book. Very early on, Leinenbach puts together two eBooks containing recipes and sells them through the platform Elopage for EUR 9.99 and EUR 14.99. Step two is selling the current cookbook as an eBook. On the whole, a very sound strategy to link the recipes featured in Instagram Reels’ content to cooking content.

First comes graduation, then comes the food brand

Currently, Leinenbach’s focus is on developing the Fitgreenmind brand further on Instagram. On the one hand, because it’s just too effective at the moment and on the other, because Leinenbach doesn’t really have any time to dedicate to any other platforms. “I try to upload a video to Youtube once a week, but it’s much more time-intensive than Reels, which is why it is not my primary focus,” says Leinenbach. For Tiktok, which Leinenbach does use, she just reuses the content from Reels in the same format. On TikTok, she has just under 118,000 followers and several of her clips there have generated over 1M views. Pinterest, she says, is also of interest. To make that work, however, she says that she would have to modify the format, i.e. written content instead of videos—which is currently an impossibility timewise. “Due to a lack of time, I made the decision to more or less discontinue my recipe blog a few months ago.”

Not having enough time to dedicate to other platforms, content forms and projects could soon be a thing of the past. “I still have another year and a half before I graduate, during which time I intend on continuing the project and then increase the content after I’m done. My goal is to one day create a standalone brand that supplies supermarkets with vegan products,” she says. There are several options available to this end in the meantime that are commonplace in the creator economy, such as a partnership with an existing ice tea or granola bar brand. In the end, she hopes to create an entirely independent company with its own manufacturing capabilities. If she continues to add followers at the current rate, there figures to be a few interested parties in supporting that endeavor.

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