Valérie Kolly

Valérie Kolly

The girl with the 5.3 million views

Valérie is sitting at the breakfast table early one morning before work, phone in hand. Like most mornings, she’s finalising a video for her Instagram account, a compilation of easy-to-prepare healthy meals. Today’s is a classic cheese naan with a hint of courgette. She makes the final tweaks, hits [share] and sets off to work on her bike… with no idea that she is was about to go viral.

It started in 2015 with a 3-month ‘Top Body Challenge’ that a friend had encouraged Valérie to try. “I wanted to get fit and lose a couple of kilos. I soon realised that a complete overhaul of my eating habits was needed, so I began seeking out more home-made, simple meals with lots of vegetables.” She came across recipes online but found they often lacked imagination or taste so she would find ways to tweak them by adding a twist of lemon, a handful of nuts, or a sprinkle of aromatic herbs. Inspired by the community also doing the challenge, she began posting her breakfast bowls and tagging #topbodychallenge to her Instagram account. By the end of the challenge, she had 1000 followers.

For the next two years, she kept posting. The content of Valérie’s posts paralleled her own culinary and sports journey. Breakfast bowls became nutritional snacks and then wholesome meals to complement her workouts. Her followers explored in tandem with Valérie’s discoveries. And the more she ventured, the more her followship grew. “Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. And you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen.” This is what was Valérie’s initial motivation. Simple. Healthy.

Valérie’s website Sainplementhealthy (or Simplyhealthy) was a natural extension of her social media activities. “I needed a repository for all my recipes. I built the site from scratch using a basic WordPress template. I’d watch tutorials and just try out different things on the site.” Around this time Valérie joined Pictet in the Asset Management marketing team and was tasked with ensuring online articles were easily found (and at the top of the list) by search engine. “Speaking with colleagues, I learned a lot about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), increasing ‘impressions’ and clicks and figured I’d try it out on my site. It became my ‘sandbox’, where I’d test, tweak titles and descriptions and just see what happened.” It worked. Viewers came to her site. And then kept returning.

By now, managing her website and conceiving new recipes took up most of her evenings. “The posts aren’t what take time, nor do the recipes (they are simple after all!), it’s all the preparation around them!” From researching trending ingredients, figuring out a simple recipe, choosing which bowls and background to use, setting up different angles, adjusting the lighting, to finally chopping, mixing and baking, all while either filming or photographing her progress and doing a voice-over. The effortless ‘here’s what I threw together earlier’ look can take up to two hours.

Which leads us to that courgette cheese naan video post. “It came out of nowhere. Within 30 minutes I had more views than I usually get in 12 hours. And it just kept rising.” To 5.3 million. Her next few recipes were also highly viewed. “There’s a certain pressure (and even addiction) once you’ve had a post go viral to keep on producing ‘winning’ content.” And after all, Valérie has a fulltime job, she concocts and posts for pleasure, there is no creative team to keep churning out content. 

A couple of months after her moment of fame, Valérie’s son was born and she took a break from social media. When she returned she hadn’t lost her followers but she’d lost the edge. “The algorithm works in mysterious ways, I have no idea what worked that ‘cheese naan’ day. Was it the video? Was it the unconventional courgettes? Who knows? It’s impossible to keep up with.”

So why does she do it? “I discovered a love for cooking simply and wanted to share that it is possible and easy to make a nutritious meal in a short time, without an industrial kitchen or permanently stocked fridge. The response has been far greater than I ever imagined. The ultimate is when people tell me they’ve cooked one of my recipes AND managed to make their partner/toddler/friends eat veggies!” 

Today Valérie still uses Instagram but prefers to post to Pinterest, an image sharing platform that allows users to browse ideas and save to pinboards. It allows for a greater life balance and unlike on Instagram, her posts always remain visible. Brands (such as Migros, Isey Skyr, Too Good to Go and Fage (Greek yoghurt) periodically ask her to promote their products. Her website has just had a makeover and averages 10,000 hits per day. A while back she took the leap and bought her own domain name, allowing far more creative flexibility and insight into user-behaviour than the previous more modular site. She claims to still be looking for her ‘online identity’. Her 104k Instagram followers may argue she’s already found it. 

When she’s not cooking up treats in her kitchen, Valérie is Digital Marketing Manager in Group Communications. 

Valérie's top tips

Five things to always have in your pantry:

  1. Chickpeas
  2. Rice
  3. Coconut milk
  4. Peanut Butter
  5. Oats

Five things to always have in your fridge:

  1. Eggs
  2. Skyr
  3. At least one fresh seasonal vegetable (ie. courgette!)
  4. Condiment (mustard, soy sauce, etc.)
  5. Cheese (Gruyère!)

Five alternatives to sugar for dishes, cakes and desserts:     

  1. Ripe bananas    
  2. Applesauce 
  3. Pitted dates   
  4. Maple syrup    
  5. Spices such as cinnamon, orange flower or vanilla can mask the lack of sugar 
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