KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Publishing for global audiences is no easy task. Many try, but few do well. World Grain’s 40 years covering the international grain, milling and feed industries shows what it takes to succeed.

 “World Grain was Morton Sosland’s brainchild,” said Arvin Donley, editor, World Grain. “Morton had the foresight to see that global trade of agricultural commodities was going to expand in the coming decades, and developments in the grain industry in one country can have a profound impact on another.

“World Grain is a publication that highlights the interconnectivity of nations when it comes to the production and processing of grains and oilseeds.”

The magazine’s longtime publisher and now chairman of the company, Charles Sosland, said, “Our editorial quality today leads the market. World Grain has better staff writers and better qualified correspondents than any other publication in this field, bar none.”

The opportune time

The year 1982 provided a seminal moment to launch onto the world stage a publication that focused on the global grain trade. It had been a decade since the Great Russian Grain Deal roiled markets. Soon, however, the powerful agricultural hegemonies in the USSR were crumbling, China had started its shift to market economics, and the two big grain trading government monopolies in Canada and Australia were headed toward their twilight.

It was also the year of the China Encounter, a grain, milling and baking symposium jointly sponsored by Sosland Publishing Co. and the Bureau of Foreign Affairs in the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. Ten years after US President Richard Nixon’s breakthrough visit to China, it took place to great success Sept. 9-12 in Beijing and attracted delegates from China and 12 different nations, including the United States.

Introducing the new magazine in its first issue the next month, Morton Sosland wrote to its readers, “World Grain will be a pivot for the flow of information needed to allow the world’s most vital industry to improve its productivity, efficiency and profit-making capability.”

Nearly 40 years later, Charles Sosland recalled his father’s vision: “World Grain came about because of what Morton started at Milling & Baking News in the 1970s, specifically his interest in and interactions with grain business owners and executives around the world. This also led to him breaking the news about the Russian Grain Deal, news that secured the place of Sosland Publishing among the world’s leading media.”

Neil Sosland, executive editor, markets, and Morton’s brother, added, “We had been thinking about this concept for a long time. The company and The Southwestern Miller were founded in 1922 to serve regional flour millers. Although that magazine was directed at the US, we always had some readers around the world.” 

World Grain’s first issue appeared in October 1982. It assembled an 82-page folio, and its front cover featured the planet Earth as seen from space. Its first country focus — still among the magazine’s most popular series — examined the USSR. Headed by Morton Sosland as editor/publisher, the magazine recruited Tony Bush, a noted British business journalist, to be managing editor. 

As a new magazine, it could call on authoritative reporters and writers, including Morton Sosland, Josh Sosland, Melvin Sjerven, Jay Sjerven and Roger Johnson. On the business side, it applied the talents of Mark Sabo, director of publishing; Rob McKnight, director, North America advertising sales; and Charles Sosland, director, international.

“In those early years, Tony Bush and Neil Sosland worked with the magazine’s editors, later including Susan Robinson, Stormy Wylie and Melissa Alexander,” Charles Sosland said. “Our current editor, Arvin Donley, came to us as an already well-respected journalist, knowledgeable about the grain and milling fields. My own career started on the milling and grain side, and later I became group publisher for our grain titles.”

Getting onboard

The idea was right, the market was there, and the timing was promising. But what about advertising support?

“After all, publishers also need to be able to monetize their concepts,” said Meyer Sosland, chief operating officer and executive editor, Sosland Publishing Co. He was previously an assistant editor of Milling & Baking News, soon moving to managing editor of World Grain. He is Charles’ son. 

“We had talked to the world’s major grain suppliers and millers and learned that becoming the window on the world would be unique,” Charles Sosland said.

Getting the advertisers onboard was somewhat more difficult.

Neil Sosland observed, “With announcement of World Grain, we encountered a certain resistance from European advertisers to an American publication going to an international audience.”

Charles Sosland explained, “The three most powerful equipment suppliers in Europe were concerned that we would become a marketing tool for their American competitors. Only after I relocated to London with my family and had success with two Italian manufacturers did the other three big Europeans come around.”

Those “early in” advertisers were rewarded with prestigious positions opposite “Letter from the Editor” and on the front and back covers. These placements continued for many years.

To further enhance the international positioning of World Grain, publishers and editors attended and reported various national industry meetings as well as the big international shows. This also helped buttress the magazine’s relationships with international readers and advertisers.

“At the time we launched World Grain, there were Italian and UK publications, each attempting to go international,” Charles Sosland remembered. “The UK title was as old as our Southwestern Miller (now Milling & Baking News).”

Printing and mailing presented other hurdles to overcome. Almost as soon as it launched, World Grain circulation boasted subscribers in nearly 130 countries.

“We went through any number of printers,” Charles Sosland said. “We encountered problems not only with timely delivery of the magazine but also paper stock — lightweight stock is less costly to mail but not so durable.

“And mailing was a significant challenge. We finally worked out an arrangement with our printer in Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. They found a company that would ship World Grain to local post offices around the world within a week of publication. Then, it was up to the local post office to get the magazine out to the readers. It can still take two weeks to two months to reach readers, but delivery has much improved.”

A world view, strongly voiced

World Grain’s media kit today describes the magazine as being “the international business magazine for grain, flour and feed.”

“Our magazine circulates monthly to an estimated 38,000 readers in nearly 160 countries,” Donley said. “The overall mission is basically the same as it was in 1982, which is to highlight industry trends, important events and anything else that is relevant to our global audience. What has changed is how we deliver this information to our readers with all the digital options we now have to disseminate our news product.”

World Grain readers are managers, owners and operators of major grain storage and handling concerns and processing facilities responsible for manufacturing flour and feed. The magazine’s issues are delivered to six continents: Africa, 10%; Asia, 15%; Oceania, 10%; Europe, 22%; North America, 25%; and South America, 18%.

“Morton recognized that the way grain is stored, handled and processed is done much the same way around the world,” Charles Sosland said. “Milling is milling. Flour is flour. Feed is feed. Grain merchandising is the same way. And most of the managers in this field speak and read English.”

Now it was up to the editors and correspondents to bring compelling content to readers around the globe. 

“We had to get out and address our talents to reporting on grain on a worldwide basis,” Neil Sosland said. “World Grain was a definite extension of Milling & Baking News but also definitely a world publication.”

Fortunately, World Grain had more than one ace in the hole. Because grain and milling are lynchpin topics for Milling & Baking News, World Grain has always been able to count on strong participation within its editorial and feature pages by key Milling & Baking News editors.

Company president and editor of Milling & Baking News, L. Joshua Sosland, recalled writing many articles for World Grain in the days that he served as Milling & Baking News’ markets editor. The August 2021 earthquake in Haiti brought to mind a trip he took 10 years ago a few months after an even more devastating earthquake. He visited the country’s largest flour mill. 

“It was a uniquely tragic story,” Josh Sosland said. “The managers described how work to clear the rubble was frequently interrupted to listen for possible survivors. The seaside dock that served the mill was the only operating port facility in the country for quite a long time.”

Over the years, several editors and publishers influenced the magazine’s performance. Morton Sosland was World Grain’s editor/publisher from 1982-93 and editor-in-chief from then until his death in 2019. Neil Sosland was editorial director for much of the magazine’s first decade (1984-93). Tony Bush was managing editor from 1982-84 and then moved full-time to Agribusiness Worldwide. 

Melissa Cordonier Alexander, recruited from vice president of public affairs at the Kansas City Board of Trade, headed the magazine and later managed its annual directories (13 years, 1983-2011), exerting significant influence. Others who held the role of editor or managing editor included Susan Robinson (10 years, 1988-98), Stormy Wylie (eight years, 1994-2002), Suzi Fraser Dominy (four years, 2002-06) and Meyer Sosland (12 years, 2004-16). Eric Schroeder, Milling & Baking News’ managing editor since 2004, added similar duties for World Grain in 2016. The longest serving, however, is World Grain’s current editor, Arvin Donley (17 years, starting 2005), nearly matched by Susan Reidy (15 years, starting 2007) as senior editor and, previously, editor of Biofuels Business.

The individuals who served World Grain in sales and publishing roles have similar long tenure. Mark Cornwell (20 years, 1994-2014), a World Grain sales rep, succeeded Charles Sosland as publisher in 1999. When he left, another veteran Sosland sales rep, Dan Flavin (23 years, starting 1999), took over as publisher.

World Grain was launched as a bimonthly, but three years later in 1985, it went to nine regular issues a year and an international buyer’s guide as its 10th. In 1985, it was the first in its field of coverage to compile and publish an international milling directory — 4,000 mills in 80 countries.

Regular issues rose to a full 12 monthly editions annually in 1994. Addition of Grain & Milling Annual and Spanish, Chinese and, most recently, Russian language editions plus regional and international buyer’s guides brings the magazine to 18 separate issues in 2021.

It also has added coverage of feed.

“There was always a little bit of feed industry coverage mixed in, but it wasn’t until about eight years ago that we made a concerted effort to significantly increase our coverage of the global feed industry,” Donley explained. 

Flavin explained further, “Consolidation within the industry has given us the opportunity to expand our coverage to include feed-related articles and readers.”

Circulation also was expanded to add producers of grain-based biofuels.

“Basically, we’re interested in any type of grain processing,” Donley said. “I anticipate that specialty milling is going to become a bigger part of our coverage as we move forward because more companies are making it a bigger part of their operation.”

Content that fits the market

“Above all, World Grain strives for diversity in its content,” Donley said. “By that I mean we try to have important news from every continent in each issue, as well as meaningful content on each of the three industries we cover. We also strive to include a nice mix of market news, profiles on companies and individuals, new construction projects, operations features, editorial commentary and news from industry suppliers. 

“It’s quite a balancing act, but one we take very seriously.”

As intended from the first, World Grain is distinctly international in editorial scope.

“World Grain was meant to be the international version of Milling & Baking News, but more operational in focus,” Charles Sosland said.

World Grain’s editorial menu reflects today’s broad trends and places them in context of its readers in the grain, milling and feed sectors.

From the first, each issue carried one or more features about significant milling and grain operations, often profiling the newest and largest such facilities. 

“The industries we cover are dominated by companies that have been around for decades and, in some cases, more than a century,” Donley said. “But those companies are always erecting new facilities, and we are always eager to feature a new grain terminal, flour mill or feed mill. These new plants are of great interest to our readers because they often feature the newest equipment the industry has to offer.”

Interviews provide commentary from industry leaders. These individuals range from the EU’s Minister of Agriculture, to the US Secretary of Agriculture, to the heads of the former USSR’s Exportkhleb, Ceroil Foods in China and the Canadian Wheat Board. The chief executives of major millers and grain-based associations around the world also have had their say in the pages of the magazine.

The country focus articles, included in each issue from the beginning, profile government policies concerning agriculture and detail the agribusiness conditions in countries on every continent except Antarctica. All told, the series has taken readers around the world several times.

“There are several dozen countries that qualify as major players in the industries we cover, and we try to feature them every few years on a rotating basis,” Donley said. “Others, such as China, Brazil, the US and Canada, are updated more frequently because their ag industries are so large and dynamic. 

“We do get occasional input from our advertisers who inform us about countries seeing the most growth in terms of added grain storage and processing capacity. It has always been one of our most popular features, and we are careful during our selection process to make sure all parts of the globe are represented in a given year.”

The magazine regularly covers new technologies, a focus established during Neil Sosland’s editorial management. Its coverage of pneumatic conveying, color sorters and double-roll roller mills gave many international readers their first glimpse of these state-of-the-art systems. The potential for “lights out” milling was reported in 1992.

Ethanol received front cover attention from World Grain. In 1988, the magazine reported a Swedish pilot project for making fuel ethanol from cereal grains. During ethanol’s boom years, 2003-08, World Grain took readers to visit many ethanol production facilities, described its manufacturing technology and cautioned about diversion of grains from food and feed into fuel. Although ethanol has waned considerably, it’s still an active subject for the magazine.

Today’s hot topics

The interests of World Grain’s audience in the grain storage, handling and trade arenas, as well as those active in flour milling and feed manufacturing, share common themes.

“Product safety has become hugely important,” Donley observed. “Personal safety, whether it’s preventing grain dust explosions or grain entrapment or keeping employees out of harm’s way in processing plants, is also an issue that drives our coverage, as is sustainability. 

“These industries are also dealing with increasing amounts of government regulation, which can significantly impact these tight-margin businesses.” 

One emerging trend is blockchain technology and the impact that will have on everything from grain trading to how flour and feed mills operate.

“New technology is always at the forefront of World Grain’s coverage because it can revolutionize how grain is stored, processed and transported,” Donley said.

Climate change has been a significant editorial subject for World Grain since the 1990s. Articles detail its implications for agriculture generally and cereal grains specifically. The topic is frequently the featured subject of the magazine’s front covers.

“As the weather gets hotter and more extreme, it is having a dramatic impact on crop production,” Donley said. “In recent years, many countries, most notably Australia, have seen crop output significantly reduced due to drought. The changing climate is moving more grain production north in places such as Canada and Siberia. They are now growing soybeans, which would have been an unthinkable development just a few years ago. 

“While production of those crops expand into those areas, the concern is that places like Australia and the Southern Plains in the US, which already had a warm, dry climate prior to the recent extreme climatic developments, will have difficulty growing crops in the near future. With the global population projected to increase to nearly 10 billion by 2050, the world simply cannot afford to have grain production curtailed because of climate issues.” 

Content and competition

“One of Sosland Publishing’s mottos is, ‘Content is King,’” Donley said. In this, he spoke not only for World Grain but all the company’s publications and staff.

“The company has always invested in its editorial product, whether it be in personnel, cutting-edge technology or sending its editors to cover events all over the world, which is not inexpensive,” he noted.

One of World Grain’s secrets to success, Donley said, is its crew of highly capable correspondents scattered throughout the world in places such as Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia and South America.

“This enables us to have an ear to the ground in important grain-producing regions and to cover more industry events than we could otherwise,” he said.

“World Grain is still the leading publication in its market segment,” Flavin said, “However, over the past several years, we have seen increasing competition for advertising dollars.” 

Flavin noted publications based in the UK, India and Turkey as chief among World Grain’s competitors.

Donley compared the publications, saying, “We certainly cover a wider variety of topics than our competitors, and the quality of our content is higher.”

Meyer Sosland agreed, “My experience as managing editor of World Grain showed me the importance of high-quality content. Sosland Publishing provides its readers with high-quality content that they use in their professional lives. In doing so, we have developed an audience that is very valuable to those who wish to market their equipment, services and ingredients to the global grain, flour and feed industries.”

A good way to measure editorial performance is by reader reaction. Josh Sosland described a trip to Puerto Rico to write about the territory’s largest flour mill.

“When we were picked up at the airport, the passengers in our car included the mill superintendent,” he recalled. “I mentioned that my article would run in Milling & Baking News and World Grain, and the superintendent really perked up at the mention of World Grain. It took me back a bit that he had not recognized our foundational magazine, but obviously, World Grain was a favorite.”

Meyer Sosland detailed similar experiences.

“From a young age — five to be exact, when my father moved our family to London — I was very lucky to travel internationally,” he said. “Later, when I became managing editor and associate publisher of World Grain, that experience gave me the ability to easily interact with our customers.”

He recalled visiting a miller in South Africa: “I was there with one of World Grain’s major advertisers. I asked the miller whether they received World Grain. He said yes and that the current issue was then in the break room being read.

“And during a recent meeting at a publicly traded US leader in the grain trade, I noticed that the head of marketing had made her office into a library and kept World Grain issues close at hand. She is an avid reader of World Grain.”

Forward into digital

There’s no doubt that the future is digital. World Grain was among the first Sosland Publishing titles to run its own website. It launched World-Grain.com in September 2000. Editors post news and features on a daily basis. In the years since, the magazine has added affiliated products — podcasts, videos, webinars, ezines, e-newsletters and white papers, among others.

“We have a very loyal readership for World Grain’s website and digital edition,” Charles Sosland said.

On average, the website hosts more than 88,000 sessions per month, attracting 25,000+ average monthly digital circulation. Its daily, weekly and monthly e-newsletters serve an audience of nearly 250,000.

Reaching an international audience via the internet, however, raises some obstacles. A number of governments tightly control access. In other regions, people can be reluctant to give the personal information needed to sign up for the company’s e-newsletters.

“And the EU is very strict about spam,” Charles Sosland explained. “World Grain is very disciplined about its emails. As a result, our subscribers do open their emails at a greater rate than those of many other publications.”

Digital offers additional opportunities.

“More recently, we developed a significant presence on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn,” Donley said. Holly Saddler, who joined World Grain as its first digital editor in 2015, led the way with these efforts, bringing the latest in sophisticated communications to magazine readers and website visitors. World Grain editors and correspondents who attend industry events now have the capability to interview key figures live on social media.

Another growth area is custom publishing for industry organizations.

“We recently put together a publication for IAOM commemorating its 125th anniversary and worked on a similar project for the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University several years ago,” Donley said.

Because 2022 is not only Sosland Publishing’s 100th anniversary but also World Grain’s 40th, readers can expect further growth of information platforms.

The company fully expects to expand such offerings for the World Grain market.

“The priority is to deliver what platforms the audience is used to consuming,” Meyer Sosland said. “It’s our duty to determine what those platforms are.”

As Sosland Publishing Company, publisher of World Grain, gears up to celebrate 100 years of providing food industry professionals timely information, news and commentary, we will be publishing a series of articles across all our titles to celebrate the past, present and future of the people and industry that feeds the world.