Did you know that food gifts, also known as business gifts or executive gifts, are one of the least understood and under-utilized categories in the promotional products industry? For many years food has ranked below the “other” category in the PPAI annual survey of product categories, accounting for only 1.55% or $300 million in sales. As a whole in 2015, our industry did about $20 billion, so food sales accounted for a very small piece of the pie.
Out “there”, the mail order food business is bigger than our entire industry! According to a report in Food Engineering, the retail food gift business hit an estimated $21 billion in 2014, up 5% from the previous year. And it continues to grow!
The sad part about these numbers is, it’s your customers who are buying food (not from you) to give out. So think about this simple correlation – if our industry did $20 billion, and the food industry did $21 billion the year before, is it possible for you to double your sales in one year just by going after the food business that’s already out there with your customers, who are buying direct?
It could be possible! The biggest problem is that your customers don’t know that getting food gifts through their promotional products distributor is even an option. In my observation of 26 years in this industry, most salespeople are remembered by the first thing they ever sold to that customer. So in one customer you might be known as their pen guy. Another customer might know you as the lady who sells them mugs. But how many of your customers actually think about you as the sales professional who takes care of all of their business gift needs at the end of the year?
In selling food, the first step is to identify your customers who have the opportunity to use food. Within every one of your customers there are three opportunities – there are executive gifts, which the President, CEO, etc. gives out to their circle of friends, golf buddies, or Board of Directors. The second sale comes from Human Resources and that’s gifts for employees. The third sale within every one of your customers is in Sales and Marketing for customers. In some small companies this may be the same buyer; in larger companies there may be multiple departments that would buy food. For instance purchasing might even buy something to send out the vendors. (As an interesting aside, I have actually gotten back my own products as a gift from some distributors who sent them out to their preferred vendors!)
My belief is that the best time to start getting food catalogs out to your customers is in the month of August. As I mentioned above, your competition is not the other distributors in town; the real threat is the mail order food vendors. And they are already bombarding your customers with catalogs every 2 to 3 weeks.
Once you’ve made your rounds with the catalogs, by the end of August to the first part of September, you need to start going out with samples. Giving out free samples to your customers will convince them on the quality of goods you are selling.
This method is tried and true, I know this process works! Just last week I did a tabletop show with a distributor at a Counter meeting. We placed multiple boxes of chocolates and nuts on the tables and began the presentation. At the end of the meeting I went back around the tables to pick up any unopened boxes. Not only were there no unopened boxes, there were no boxes period. People at the table had taken the boxes with them as they left. This is when you know you have a powerful promotion on your hands that reached prospects and customers with your food gift!
Once you start to see that customers are responding to your samples, it’s time to do the trial close. Sit down and talk about budgets. Ask them how many people they want to reach. Ask them if you can handle the direct mailing for them. Would they like to include something inside, such as a thank-you card or a brochure? These are all items that can be handled for that customer, to take all of the pre-Christmas stress out of their hands. Of course you don’t have to ship those orders immediately; orders can be delayed, but I always recommend that you ship food gifts to be delivered before Thanksgiving. Two reasons for this: The first is that people always remember the first gift they get, so you want to get your customers gifts into their customers’ hands early. The second is follow-up sales. Inevitably customers will come back to you and ask to get a smaller run of product because there were people that were missed.
If you’re still struggling to close the sale on food gift orders by late September, perhaps consider sending samples. This is a great way to show your customers exactly how nice their gift is going to look and exactly what the final product is going to look and taste like. When you show a customer a beautiful presentation of boxes, ribbon, paper, etc. with the food gift inside, it’s a very powerful promotion that stays front of mind. Some customers are visual and need to see, touch, and hold the product to be convinced to buy. This is especially true with taste, often times the end user won’t buy unless they have had a chance to sample the product.
Once you’ve done that, it’s trial close time again. Move that customer towards the close by asking for the order and telling them that you can get it shipped out to all of their customers on their list and have it in their hands so it’s fresh and ready to be enjoyed!
Despite their reputation, food gifts are not a scary sale. It is simply a matter of letting your customers know that you can provide an entire service for them from the gift to the delivery. It is time to think outside of the box. Now is your opportunity to be known as something else other than “that guy we buy our pens from”.