Giving the Gift of Food

Discussion
Dec 28, 2010
Tom Ryan

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
rates.

"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
difficult times.

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."

Discussion
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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Giving the Gift of Food"


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Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

With the short attention spans of most everyone, and lack of patience in searching for the perfect gifts, food is a great alternative. It always fits and there are few returns. Food is personal, and thoughtful. It can be fit into any budget, especially with high-quality private label products available today from Trader Joe’s and many online companies.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

I agree with all the comments in the discussion. But, further, there is something unique about food. Somehow it seems more personal than giving a scarf, a shirt or a tie. It is also more festive. It keeps giving each time the recipient indulges. Perhaps it is because food is so basic to our lives.

Unlike the ties I never wear that are hanging in my closet for years, food does disappear, but I enjoy it so much more.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

Ralph is right. And in addition, Americans’ interest in new and different food is due in part to the Food Network and other cable cuisine shows. The days of turkey TV dinners seem positively quaint. If I were running Trader Joe’s I would be very happy right about now.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

Food gift cards can also provide the receiver a treat or indulgence that they might not otherwise be able to afford (or if they can, be willing to spend the money on). This is true whether it’s a Starbucks or Morton’s card.

Mark Baum
Guest
Mark Baum
10 years 4 months ago

Ralph is spot on. Food is personal; even intimate. It is a reflection of culture, taste (no pun intended), and is rarely “regifted.” Even when unwanted or there is simply too much of it–shelters, food banks, and other feeding programs can make good use of (most of) it.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

I remember the days when a gift box from Harry and David was a luxury gift. The pears and such were almost too pretty to eat. Today, a box of Omaha steaks serves the same purpose, but is oh so much more practical.

My personal feeling is that food as a gift should actually be food, not just a gift card to a retail store. It’s more meaningful and less of a reminder that the recipient is really under duress financially. I could make an exception for a sibling or a child. But other than that, if you’re giving food, then pick the food and create a theme or recipe to add a personal touch. It’s more thoughtful and makes the recipient feel like they’ve been gifted. That feeling is what matters most at the holidays.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 4 months ago
I am not convinced that gift cards deserve the credit for increase in people giving food items as a gift. Although convenient, gift cards lack originality when it comes to gift giving. Why not just toss some cash in a card? The recipient would probably like even more since it can be spent or saved anywhere. The rise in food gifts is practical. People have enough “stuff.” Creating your own gift basket of food is fun and rewarding. I enjoy finding unique food items that family and friends will enjoy and that they may not find near where they live. For example, many of my friends who live far away received Bad Louis fudge this year. It is made in small batches by a guy who lives in the same town. Everyone loves it. Another favorite food gift of mine is building a holiday basket at Trader Joe’s. I really enjoy looking around the store and finding items the person I am buying for might like. Food is a wonderful gift and I see retailers… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

I also think food brings us back to a (perceived) simpler time when Christmas didn’t start at Halloween and was indeed an exercise in giving gifts not succumbing to mass marketing hype. Cooking gets you out of the mall, reduces stress and makes a personal statement.

Personally I think if there is a threat to holiday sales it won’t necessarily come from some economic crisis but rather from a backlash against mindless commercialism.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

My sentiments are with John and Anne. I have never liked the idea of gift cards and have been giving food for years. This year, one of Amazon’s nominated companies delivered two excellent gifts to my inaccessible Alaskans. Both arrived promptly, in excellent condition and consisted of products they could not get locally. We were all happy with the outcome, even if the carriage did (as usual) cost almost as much as the gifts.

There are lots of ways to use food for excellent gifts. In spite of the previous paragraph, I can see that cards can be one of them because they enable recipients to choose between treats, basics and personal preferences.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

Perhaps Anne, John, Bernice, and I can form a quartet, strolling the streets singing the evils of gift cards: inflexible, illiquid and a tacit admission that you had neither the time nor creativity to pick out a real present; and a gift basket from one of our fine purveyors of $5.44 worth of eats for $82.50 probably isn’t far behind. OTOH, actually picking out goods and creating the basket yourself seems thoughtful, creative and thrifty…in short, almost quaint.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 4 months ago

As the happy recipient and giver of many delicious food and wine gifts over the years, I must add my voice to the holiday chorus here that favors the practice.

Consumable gifts arrive just in time for seasonal entertaining and sharing; so they enhance experience in ways that another reindeer sweater never can.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
10 years 4 months ago

Gifted food products which are consumed at the receiver’s pleasure–as opposed to “things” that just get stuffed in a closet or drawer are big hits. Last year as a favorite gift we got a selection of olive oils and flavored balsamic vinegars which we used and enjoyed in various ways throughout the year. I replicated that exact idea for a number of people on my giving list this year to great success and acclaim.

We do not “do” gift cards. Period.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 4 months ago

A gift of food can be fun, festive, frugal and friendly, all at the same time. I’d like to see retailers offer a gift basket that includes items to make a simple meal, with a recipe card and menu suggestions, along with a gift card inside. Featuring store brand products make the basket more economical and promotes unique and practical store products. And don’t forget, people eat year round so gift baskets don’t have to only displayed during the holidays.

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