The Evolution of the Gift Basket Industry

The Gift Basket Industry: From Tradition To Innovation – Tracing The Evolution

Gift-giving, one of the world’s oldest social traditions, has evolved through the ages.  From the apple Eve gave to Adam to the gifts brought to worship the Christ child to the turkey presented by Scrooge to the Cratchit family after a night of restless dreaming, gifts have been a part of life.

The Gift Basket Industry: From Tradition to Innovation - Tracing the Evolution 2Gift giving has come a long way since Harry & David graduated from selling fruit at a roadside stand into mail order back in 1948.  A lot of new products have been introduced, tried, and then discarded as suitable gifts.

Chocolate-covered ants, introduced at the 1963 International Fancy Food Show, are a good example.  A few years ago, chocolate-covered pasta received rave reviews and has now almost disappeared from lack of interest.

Like fashions, gifts have a cycle.  The kinds of gifts as well as the giving patterns change over the years.

Bottles of alcohol were once considered the gift of choice.   Then popcorn tins became the gift of the time.  I remember when I was a Realtor, the office received so many Christmas popcorn tin gifts that we were snacking on stale popcorn in July.

Gift baskets have been a part of the huge gift industry in some form or other for years. In the 1980’s, florists started adding gift baskets to their floral offerings and the trend continued building through that decade.

In 1990, Debra Paulk started Gift Basket Review, the first publication for the industry.  She added other booklets and publications to her growing information business as well as conventions (called Jubilee) held twice a year, in December and in the summer.

I attended my first Jubilee convention in the mid 1990’s in Sacramento, California.  It was a combination of gift baskets, balloons, and florals.  The Internet was new and I had made many gift basket friends on  the AOL and Prodigy bulletin boards.  It was wonderful to meet and network with them at this and later Jubilees.

The industry continued growing throughout the 1990s and early part of the 2000’s.  Cherie Reagor, who had been a two-time Designer of the Year winner, held her first convention and followed with a print magazine “Rave Reviews” which thrived for six years.  These magazines and conventions shaped the direction in which the industry went as well as the designs and even the products used in the gift baskets.

The gift basket industry thrived and grew.  Promises of “start your gift basket business with just $500″ encouraged many new business owners.  Retail stores of all kinds jumped on the bandwagon creating gift baskets with their products to sell in their stores.

The peak in the industry came just before the bubble burst in the real estate and banking industries during 2007—2009 and the economic conditions were the worst since the depression of the 1930’s.  As a result, many of the major vendors as well as many gift basket and gift companies closed their doors.

Those who were nimble enough to make quick changes and had the capital to hang on survived and created the core of the industry that we have today.

Ever since the gift basket industry began, it has fluctuated and evolved and continues to do so.

Design trends changed as customer’s needs changed.   The first conventions that I attended focused on creating themed baskets with enhancements such as tissue puffs and not as much product.   Cherie Reagor introduced beautiful floral enhancements and more upscale gift products into the designs.  This trend, too, evolved as people began looking for value for their dollar and most designers cut back on the florals and upscale gifts.

Food baskets have since surpassed the themed ones in popularity.  Gift boxes filled with products laying down in the box have become a trend as well.  They have always been available but are now more popular than ever before.

The change made by UPS and Fedex to calculate shipping charges based on the size of the package rather than by weight resulted in more changes in designs that had to be shipped.

Even though many don’t wish to admit it, the gift basket industry is very different than it was in its heyday.

As the world has evolved, customer needs have changed, creating new demands for new types of products and services — and opening up new areas of opportunity for companies to meet those needs.

The way people feel about giving gifts shifts through the year. And there is always the ever changing Internet which, probably more than anything, has affected the way many of us do business.  Competition comes, goes, and returns, oftentimes in a different costume, but it is always there.  And the biggest competition that affects our industry today is the wide-ranging tentacles of the Amazon monster.

Gift baskets will continue to be popular as long as people give gifts.  I’m probably going to get some throwback on this but, in my opinion, it is more and more difficult to be just a “gift basket company.”  Most of us discovered this a long time ago and have added products, that don’t come in a basket, to our menu of gifts.

But there are other changes as well.  The introduction of new ways to market that appear and disappear almost as fast as the seasons require us to be nimble and change with them.

The gift basket industry, like the rest of the world, is always changing but never as fast as now and it’s not about to slow down.

And we have to change with it.

1 thought on “The Evolution of the Gift Basket Industry”

  1. I have been in the business seriously for about 10 years or so and can identify with so many changes that have occurred. Costs of goods, inventory availability with vendors, shipping costs, etc have been challenging to say the least. But I love what I do and continue to adapt to changing markets. One thing that has been good for me is personalizing items for use with gift baskets as well as stand alone items. As life is ever changing businesses will have to adapt as well.

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