Show Your Good Taste with Edible Gifts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Everyone has his own date for when the holiday shopping season begins. Some wait until after Thanksgiving, others wait for the first snowfall and yet others contend it begins when the first gift baskets show up on the counter or break room table at work.

After all, who doesn’t enjoy a free snack at work or a package of your favorite products from your favorite stores? And many times the enjoyment of getting a gift box is equal to that of the employees who assembled, packed and shipped them.

“It’s the reverse of opening a gift. You put this time into putting it together and boxing it up, knowing that someone else is going to open it and be happy,” says Matt Campbell, owner of Branch Street Coffee Roasters in Boardman. “That’s what we enjoy on our end.”

In his store, which opened in July, Campbell sees gift boxes as a way to advertise his store and products – all coffee sold at Branch Street is roasted in the café – and reach customers.

“This is a great way to get our name out there. If you come to us, enjoy our coffee and know someone who hasn’t been here, then it’s a great way to introduce new customers to us,” he says. “We know we can get new friends through the door because of these gift boxes.”

Even for stores that have been making gift packages for decades, the chance to get into new homes and draw new customers is hard to pass up. Catullo Prime Meats in Boardman began doing gift boxes shortly after the store opened and now, three generations of family ownership later, still uses them as a driving force for marketing.

“It’s a continuation of the rest of our business,” says owner Danny Catullo. “Not only are our clientele making a big purchase with us, but they’re giving us as an opportunity to be in someone else’s kitchen. And we don’t take that lightly.”

Last year, Catullo Prime Meats sold 1,600 gift packages and expects to sell 2,000 this year. What goes in the boxes can vary from customer to customer, but there are packages that have proven popular such as the Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker box that feature meats, crackers and a locally made candle, and the Ohio box that features products grown or made only in the Buckeye State.

“When I see people get that, it’s often someone from here buying it for someone out of state,” Catullo says. “The people buying it are proud of this state. That box embodies that.”

But what can be found in boxes often changes as new trends arrive and businesses find new ways of doing things. When One Hot Cookie began taking orders for their holiday gift boxes 13 months ago, the process was much less refined, owner Bergen Giordani says.

“The first few times we did a box, it was, ‘We have 50 cookies and five flavors, so we’ll do 10 of each.’ But along the way, someone decided they were tired of doing one flavor and they’d make something else,” she says. “We learned that doesn’t work.”

This year, lists and spreadsheets track what needs to be baked, what’s been done, what’s going where and deadlines.

“It’s to the point where we know not only what we’re baking at any given time, but know how many go in each box,” Giordani says. “It’s not as random as it used to be. Now, an assortment is a well-planned assortment.”

One Hot Cookie is offering three holiday combinations in four sizes this year, a far cry from last year’s process of allowing customers to write in which flavors they wanted and how many of each.

“We made it easier for us to handle,” she says. “It’s all about having a system.”

At Branch Street, Campbell knew that his first gift box offerings had to go well. Planning began in October and the staff arrived at a similar conclusion as One Hot Cookie. Offerings are limited to one of four packages that contain some combination of three items: coffee, a grinder and a French press.

“I wanted to make sure that things went smoothly the first time around. A big part of customer experience is the ease of use,” Campbell says. “If we just threw something together, it would be sloppy and disorganized. That’s not a good way to be remembered.”

The presentation of gift packages, whether opened in an office or at home, is also crucial and offers another venue for advertising because of how memorable that package can be.

“Our gift baskets don’t usually go out [as] baskets. I try to use a container as part of the packaging,” says Anna Howells, co-owner of Something New Florist in Canfield. “We use, for example, insulated totes, popcorn buckets and dish trays, so that when you’re done with the food, you still have something to use. When you get a basket, when you’re done with it, it goes to the basement.”

Most gift packages at Something New center on food and cover themes from movie night to an Italian dinner to a simple candy basket.

Pricing is an important aspect, the business owners agree. Most gift packages are discounted from the price of individual items.

“It’s fun to be able to find unique ways to save people money and doing combos in a box is a good way,” Catullo says. “The retail value may be $125 but we sell it for $100 because it’s all going together.”

And of course, getting something unique is important as well. No one wants a gift that has the feel of an assembly line and was sent to hundreds of other people.

Branch Street, for example, has the barista who assembles the gift box fill out a letter that relates exactly what’s in the package, when it was put together and then marks it with a personalized stamp.

Something New uses what’s on display in the store as a basis for its items, but Howells notes that everything inside a package can be exchanged for another item and the packaging can be modified for each.

“It’s not easy to keep customers, so when you give them gifts, you have to make sure it’s a quality gift and that they know it’s from you,” says Catullo, who includes recipes and cooking tips in all the packages he ships.

Personalizing gifts is also a way to break the monotony in the parade of gift baskets that flows through offices during the holidays.

“Think about how many fruit baskets or popcorn tins you get. It’s always good to introduce a new variety,” Giordani says. “I know we’d love to get an office supply basket just because those are the things we need.”

Receiving gift boxes, especially around the holidays propels, raises morale while selling them tides the makers through winter when customers reduce their spending to pay down holiday debt. One Hot Cookie relies on holiday sales to get through the winter months when walk-in business drops because of the harsh weather, Giordani reports.

Every year, Catullo Prime Meats hires extra staff to meet the holiday rush and asks part-timers to work fulltime.

“The holiday business that we do allows us to run at a loss most of the year,” Catullo says. “By using us as a gift box provider, you’ve given jobs to people in Youngstown.”

And for those looking to expand into gift boxes for the first time, regardless of the industry they’re in, Catullo recommends keeping it simple.

“If you put something together you want to sell as a gift, make sure you can do a lot of them. Because you’ll never know what’s going to be a hit,” he says. “You’re better off picking your five best items and knowing that you can sell a lot of them. And you better be good at making them, because if someone orders 50, you have to make 50 and make them well.”

Pictured: Gift packages on the shelves at Something New Florist are the basis for baskets that can be customized, from what’s inside to the packaging, says owner Anna Howells.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.