Buying a holiday gift at the supermarket may have once been a sign of desperation — or just being downright cheap. These days, it’s anything but.
In this age of everyday gourmands, food is the new gift, and this winter savvy retailers plan on capitalizing with gourmet and artisan treats, lovingly packaged, that rival any sweater or tie rack out there. According to CPG research firm Packaged Facts , sales of food gifts have grown have grown by $2 billion in the past two years, up to $18 billion total, and are expected to reach $21 billion by 2014.
Gift baskets and boxes are getting a healthy makeover from retailers like Whole Foods . This year the Austin, Texas-based supermarket is offering five different types of gift boxes, ranging in price from $40 to $60. They go from the standard (sausage, nuts, candy) to the pampering (lotions, bath salts and soaps) to the ridiculously indulgent (chocolate bars, cookies and brownies). And because it’s Whole Foods, everything gets packed in a box made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified cardboard and recycled paper.
Other retailers are mixing things up and moving beyond the traditional fare. United Supermarkets  lets its customers make their own wine labels with the help of an on-site graphic artist. With the artisan chocolate trend still on the upswing, grocers are also stocking bulk sets of bars, tasting flights from around the world, and those amazing liqueur-filled mini bottles.
Food gifts don’t have to come with a ribbon on them. Most supermarkets now offer upscale natural and organic products that may not be an everyday purchase, but are aspirational enough to make great gifts. Hey, if my wife were to surprise me on Christmas with two wild-caught salmon filets or a cut of grass-fed steak, I’d be delighted.