The food gifting market has proven to be a growing entity within the specialty food realm, approaching $18 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2016.
“On the consumer side, key hallmark holidays have always been a huge driver,” says Renee Israel, co-founder of Doc Popcorn. “At no time is this more apparent than in Q4 when holidays practically invented for food come around.” Some of biggest category sellers include candy, nuts, and fruit, but healthy food alternatives are also gaining ground.
According to Dave Taiclen, president of 1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. Gourmet Food Group, giving gourmet food gifts for celebratory occasions has always been a staple in the gifting industry. In fact, Harry & David began the first Fruit-of-the-Month-Club more than 80 years ago featuring its famous Royal Riviera Pears and gourmet fruits.
“Gourmet food gifts appeal to consumers as they provide their recipient with a delicious experience that may speak to their taste—chocolate lover, grilling chef, and wine connoisseur—or allow the recipient to try a new flavor or food,” Taiclen says. “
Kim Jones, senior director, marketing of Mrs. Fields says food gifting, particularly sweet treat gifting, has had a noticeable increase over the last few holiday seasons at Mrs. Fields.
“I believe consumers are going back to the basics,” Jones says. “We want to give a gift that was made with love, without actually making it.”
Indeed, Sue George, owner of Harvard Sweet Boutique in Hudson, Mass., believes people are looking for alternatives to standard delivery gifts.
“I have seen a huge jump in people gifting our special diet items, such as gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, egg-free and dairy-free,” George says. “Corporate food gifting is also on the rise, especially during the holidays.”
The Role of Packaging
The attributes of visual design and presentation within the food-gifting category are paramount. People give gifts for the purpose of personal expression. Perhaps even more important than the food itself, is the story and experience the brand communicates.
“Whatever the design, it must commit fully to a story,” says Dustin Longstreth, senior vice president, strategy group director at NY-based branding agency CBX. “That story can be about where it’s from, how it’s made, who made it, or how expensive and scarce it is. But it’s the commitment to communicating a sense of specialness through story that will set it apart from everyday items.”
As Taiclen explains, customers have many choices today, and so the decisions are often driven by brand recognition, or the attractiveness of the packaging.
“Once the consumer is engaged, it’s our responsibility to communicate to the consumer the benefits of the gourmet food gift and tell the story of what makes our products great,” Taiclen says. “We want our visual presentation to be impactful, but still not take away from the components that are inside of it.”
According to Jenny Dorsey, culinary consultant in New York City, being a “foodie” has become commonplace and especially for the food-obsessed millennial, gifting something that is food related and experience-worthy is at the top of the list for desirable gifts.
“People are more and more interested in the why, how, where, and what of their foodstuffs, so food gifting also allows for two parties to exchange information about a food item and bond over that,” Dorsey says. She stresses that minimal design is in right now.
“It needs to be cohesively designed and on-brand—if the brand is “healthy” then it must list ingredients, show sourcing, give information online about why or how it uses its ingredients, show artisanal harvesting process, etc.,” Dorsey says
George of Harvard Sweet Boutique has seen that solid gift boxes, fun and whimsical designs—polka dots, stripes, chalkboard—sell best and then classic, conservative designs for business gifts work well.
Demographics and Future Trends
Dorsey sees urban professionals, ages 25-45, both male and female, with high discretionary income, currently being the largest food gifters.
“The food gifts they provide are as much a social status symbol for themselves as they are a gift,” Dorsey says. “They care about perceived image and brand, less about ‘value’ — quantity per dollar —and especially enjoy an experiential product that extends beyond the package.”
Taicien predicts food gifting to be a strong trend with continued growth in the future. Indeed, according to a study by Packaging Facts, food gifting sales are expected to rise 2.5 percent in 2016.
“Feedback from retail channels is important to keep consumers engaged in gourmet food gifting,” Taicien says. “Our Gourmet Food Group brands rely on constant feedback from our customers at all touch points to ensure our quality products not only meet their gifting needs but do so in an easy and convenient way for our customers.”
Longstreth, adds “And as our expectation of quality continues to grow, we’re likely to see more ultra-premium offers, made with extremely rare, expensive fine ingredients to impress that special someone on your list.”
Originally published by Specialty Food Association
Photo courtesy of Maura Keller