Food, Gift Baskets Popular for Holidays

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Food gifts and gift baskets provide a way for supermarkets to liven up their produce and floral departments during the cold holiday months, and according to a recent study, the sales boost they provide could be bigger than ever this year.

CPG research firm Packaged Facts reported that sales of food gifts have grown $2 billion in the past two years, up to $18 billion total, and are expected to reach $21 billion by 2014. Fueling the increase are specialty food gifts like chocolates, cheeses and spreads, as well as better-for-you options like fruits and nuts.

“People want to give gifts that are unique, personal, indulgent, convenient and fun,” said Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. “For many consumers, buying specialty foods during the recession is an affordable luxury that meets the criteria of their ‘ideal’ gift for others or even themselves.”

The most popular food gift is — predictably — chocolate, with sales of gift-boxed chocolates at $223 million last year. Specialty cheese, with a total market of $3.5 billion, is the next most popular option, the report noted, with other specialty items like coffee, candy and gourmet cookies following close behind.

Fruit and nuts are two other gifting favorites. Indeed, better-for-you options are seeing the sharpest growth in the category, with 30% of consumers saying they want “healthy” products like these as gifts, up from 11% who said so in 2007.

Locally made preserves merchandise well with produce, as do boxes of dried fruit, organic meats and cheeses, and the like. Dark chocolate, which grew sales during the recession, is another notable opportunity.

“As some of the fastest-growing segments in the food industry, natural and organic foods are moving up the ladder of popularity in gift basket themes,” the report stated.

According to the report, the gift basket market currently sits at $3.3 billion in sales. And there are ways to liven up these arrangements beyond just food offerings.

“One of the fastest-growing gift basket ideas is ‘cause’ baskets, which raise money for specific charities or cater to socially conscious consumers,” the report noted. “Health food gift baskets are a growing trend, as well, providing a means of giving a friend or loved one a nudge toward a healthier lifestyle. For balance, junk food gift baskets are also growing in popularity, as are ethnic food baskets, with Italian-themed baskets particularly popular in 2009 and 2010.”

Stores like Wal-Mart and Target account for the largest percentage of food gift sales, chosen by 33% of consumers. Traditional supermarkets were the preferred retailer for 28% of customers.

As good as those numbers appear, the report notes that brick-and-mortar retailers face a stout challenge from direct marketing and online competitors. The latter two hold a combined 53% of the food gift market, and are poised to grow with social media and other technological innovations.