Giving the Gift of Food
By Tom Ryan
Well beyond fruitcake, eggnog and Christmas cookies, food is apparently
becoming an increasingly popular item for holiday-gift giving.
At the higher
end, the trend marks a return to splurging as the economy shows some recovery,
according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Customers
at Whole Foods and Bristol Farms were said to be heavily buying sweets, bottles
of wine and baskets stuffed with seasonal snacks over the last few weeks. Both
Omaha Steaks as well as Hickory Farms, the maker of popular meat and cheese
party packages, had strong holiday seasons.
At the lower end, the trend
was said to be in line with the new "frugality" being
adopted by many Americans as consumers seek out for more "practical" gifts,
or at least ones that will definitely be used. At the same time,
food was seen as the ideal gift for those still battling hardship amid high-unemployment
"Customers are telling us that food, particularly some of the specialty
items, eat up a lot of the family budget," said president Chris Sherrell. "We’re
hearing a lot of people ask, ‘What do they need? What’s practical?’ They know
food isn’t going to go to waste."
But the rising popularity of gift cards was seen as making food much easier
to give as a present. With a wide variety of staples as well as more extravagant
items, supermarkets also provide a diverse selection of options for gift card
recipients. Gift card sales are up at Whole Foods and Bristol Farms and
these types provide the traditional "splurge" opportunity
for the recipient. But gift card popularity is also up at many traditional
grocers and were seen as a more thoughtful present for someone going through
With a retailer like Trader Joe’s, it seems to work both ways.
Karen Hoxmeier told
the L.A. Times that she bought her brother a cashmere
scarf and several accessories for his digital camera last year. But with her
brother out of work and cancelling his phone service, cable and trips to his
favorite retailer, she bought him a gift card this year at Trader Joe’s.
"He’s getting thin," said Ms. Hoxmeier. "He can use food."
Questions: What is driving the apparent increase in food as a holiday gift
item? To what degree is the popularity of gift cards feeding this demand?
What else could food retailers do to capitalize on this opportunity?