« November 2007 Table of Contents
Trend Watch: The gift of grub
Gift-basket orders increasingly driven by Web site sales
By Lauren Kramer
November 01, 2007
Food gifts are becoming an increasingly popular option for
consumers struggling to find the perfect gift for their
friends, family and business associates. Fueled by an interest
in gourmet and natural/organic foods and aided by increased
online orders, the market for consumer food gifts grew 47
percent from 2004 to 2006, according to "Food Gifting in the
United States," a recent study by New York market research
publisher Packaged Facts. The corporate market for food gifts
is estimated at $2.5 billion, or about one-third of the total
market, the study says.
While chocolates are still the top food gift, the use of
other shelf-stable items in baskets is reflecting changing
customer tastes. For those selling gift baskets, customization
and personalization are pivotal points of differentiation over
gift baskets sold at chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Target,
according to Packaged Facts.
Personalization is the hallmark for companies like Seafood
Inc. in Charleston, Ore. Owner Marvin Warman says his wholesale
business, SM Seafoods, received so many requests for 10 or 20
pounds of product that in August he decided to start selling
gift baskets containing fresh or flash-frozen seafood.
"I've never seen anything quite as nice as our gift
baskets," says Warman, who packages his gift baskets in wooden
pirate chests. "These are not cheesy woven baskets like
everyone and their grandma does. We got our chests out of
China, and the largest are the size of a large footlocker.
They're meant to be kept as a keepsake."
The Tuna Lovers' Ultimate Basket contains smoked ahi tuna,
cans of albacore tuna and tuna loin, while the Smoked Baskets
have a sample of various smoked seafood including salmon,
oysters, tuna and black cod. The baskets range in price from
$29.99 to $249.99, excluding shipping. The company also sells
olive oil, sea salt, mixes for smoking fish and decorative
nautical items that can be added to each gift basket.
"You know the experience of people going up the coast and
getting wonderful fresh seafood off of the dock?" says Warman.
"That's what we provide."
Seafood Inc. has a dedicated online camera on the dock so
customers can see their gift
basket being made, and can
handpick the lobster or crab.
"You'll get an e-mail saying log on at this time and see it
being made, or call in and stipulate which piece of seafood you
want," Warman says. "I have 16 cameras watching my dock, with
one on each tank, so it's easy to pick out your individual
Warman ships the baskets overnight, adding sufficient dry
ice to keep the seafood at the correct temperature.
"The fact that we're a fishery is a huge benefit in being
able to offer fresh baskets," he explains. "For example, our
oysters are all live. We do all of our own canning. Everything
you buy from us is fish from this year."
Product freshness is an aspect at the forefront of another
Charleston-based company, this one across the country in South
Carolina. Charleston Seafood has sold seafood gift baskets for
the past decade, with live items shipped overnight and others
shipped in two days using gel packs and heavy, Department of
"Our customers are interested in fish and that's what we
specialize in, so we don't get into themed gift baskets," says
Ron Manz, company owner. "We're unique in that we process your
order the same day it is shipped. For example, if you order
salmon steaks, they are cut off the fish that day, vacuum
sealed and shipped. Each item is labeled and dated so people
know how fresh it is, and that's important, because people need
to have confidence in their supplier. We want our seafood to
arrive fresh, cold and delicious."
Manz says Charleston Seafood was among the first online
seafood companies when it entered the gift-basket business 10
"Our variety is so extensive that we haven't seen a demand
for customization," he says. "We seem to have every combination
of gift basket covered."
Charleston Seafood's online orders have increased 20 percent
in recent months. Wherever the orders come from, Manz includes
instructions on how to store and handle the fish, a 100 percent
money-back guarantee and a customer appreciation letter.
By contrast, the contents of seafood gift baskets sold by
Blue Crab Bay Co. are all shelf stable. The Melfa, Va., company
sells seafood gift baskets and a line of seafood-related
"We're finding that customers like items that don't need a
lot of preparation, but appear time consuming," says Kelly
Drummond, Blue Crab Bay's public relations and marketing
coordinator. "For example, our seafood cheese ball kits are
great for entertaining, but don't require much time or effort
on the part of the consumer. The trend is for convenience:
simplicity but an air of elegance to the food items."
The company's gift baskets range from $30 to $120 and are
popular because they "conjure up memories of great times spent
on the water with family and friends," says Drummond. Personal
gifting constitutes 80 percent of Blue Crab Bay's business,
with corporate gifting representing the remainder.
Blue Crab Bay witnessed a 40 percent increase in online
orders last year, and as a result has opted to publish a
smaller 12-page catalog. This is the first year the company
reduced its print catalog from the traditional 24 pages since
its inception 21 years ago.
"People try our products and then request a catalog," she
explains. "We also have regular product features on the Food
Network, product referrals and people who see us at trade
There is good news ahead according to the Packaged Facts
study, which predicts the market for food gifts will grow
another 45 percent by 2010, exceeding $23 billion in sales. The
reason? Food gifts are certain to please, easy to share and
provide an experience or indulgence - fishy or otherwise.
Contributing Editor Lauren Kra m er lives in British