By Hilary Danailova
Who doesn’t love an edible gift? Gourmet foods are tasty, a little decadent and won’t take up space in a closet. And while the contents of that gift basket may vary — from cheddar in the Midwest to champagne in tony Santa Monica — chocolate, plain or fancy, is the hands-down winner at florists, candy shops or other gift outlets.
Godiva-brand chocolate is the longtime favorite at Edelweiss Flower Boutique in Santa Monica, Calif., said Owner Elizabeth Seiji. “I have a few other chocolates, but customers are attracted to that for some reason, whether online or walking into the store,” said the retailer, who bought the 1,200-square-foot florist 35 years ago. “They’ve just branded themselves well.”
Milk chocolate is customers’ top choice, but a dark-chocolate selection is essential. Besides satisfying kosher requirements (milk does not), “when people want dark, that’s all they want,” Seiji observed. Her own requirement: chocolates with at least a six-month shelf life. Artisan chocolates without preservatives may turn bad before customers buy them.
Like some other retailers, Seiji has observed declining demand for gift baskets and, correspondingly, other non-chocolate gourmet snacks. “It’s less popular in the florist industry,” she explained. For those who do want gift baskets, Seiji picks up fruit and other edibles from Whole Foods: “We’re one of the few industries that can make something custom, same day.”
Her guiding principle for those gift baskets: Grab-and-go foods like cheese, crackers and nuts. “People want to grab and eat, and not think about putting something together,” Seiji explained.
Variety — savory and sweet, healthy and decadent — is Linda Gorin’s top tip for a great gift basket. Gorin has put together baskets for 33 years at The Best To You, her 4,000-square-foot San Diego business, and her experience is that customers like a good mix of flavors: honey mustard pretzels, chocolates and cookies, cheese and crackers. “You want something that’s great for sharing, whether it’s going to a family or an office department,” said Gorin.
Lately Gorin has noticed increased demand for healthy fare, such as dried fruits, sunflower seeds, low-sugar breakfast bars and granola. “Even when it’s a choice of chocolate, they’re going with the dark chocolate for the health benefits,” she observed. Her clients appreciate that she customizes baskets for restricted diets, as well — gluten-free, nut allergies, diabetics and so on. “But we always recommend some decadent snacks that appeal even to folks who are health conscious,” Gorin added.
Champagne, truffles and Brie are among the upscale fare favored by clients of Farrah’s Florist in chic Santa Monica, Calif. Owners Saeed and Farrah Moayedi have built a loyal clientele over 30-plus years in business by knowing their customers’ refined tastes. “What’s typically required from us is champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries, high-end cheeses, locally sourced fruits and wines,” said Store Manager Dawn Smith.
Corporate accounts are a mainstay of the shop’s gourmet business; Smith and her colleagues work closely with the concierges at local hotels and at hospitals, crafting specialty baskets full of chocolate-cherry cordials, rosemary-scented cashews and fresh strawberries. “We have enough lead time where we buy fresh, ideally the same day or the evening before,” Smith said.
Midwestern classics like cheddar and Swiss cheese, along with chocolate, nuts, crackers and fruits, are what sell at Sugarbush Gourmet Gift Baskets, a Worthington, Ohio-based family business. President John McCauley said his company’s tried-and-true snacks have sated taste buds around the greater Columbus area since 1981.
“You pick the ones that taste good to you, and you put them in the baskets and everybody seems to like them,” said McCauley. His team crafts baskets themed around local sports teams, like the Ohio State Buckeyes, or milestones like a new baby.
What has kept his business thriving, McCauley added, is having a retail location where people can drop in and sample the wares. “If it tastes good in their mouths, they’ll want them in the baskets,” he explained. “That’s the formula right there.”
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate is the formula at Windy City Sweets in Chicago, Ill. Manager Wendi Trask said best-sellers include chocolate-coated s’mores, peanut butter and cookies ‘n cream chocolates, and the specialty chocolates for which the store is known — including chocolate-covered jalapeño peppers, potato chips, bacon, Cheetos and so on. “If something stands still long enough, we’ll cover it in chocolate,” Trask joked.
An entire wall is devoted to dozens of hard candies, including retro favorites that are popular for gifts. With so many options, “our success depends on helping people find what they need,” explained Trask. “Our staff is knowledgeable; we all love the product. And having that expansive product offering makes it nearly impossible not to have what someone’s looking for.”
In a crowded marketplace, it takes more than just tasty sweets to win repeat business, Trask noted. She advises making sure gourmet treats are beautifully packaged, whether in a gift box or a basket. “If it’s going to their clients, it has to reflect well on them,” said Trask of corporate gifts. “We’re representing their business. We want to give them the best value for their price point.”
Not that it’s exactly a hard sell, she added: “Candy basically sells itself.”