Survey: Consumers Take Bigger Holiday Bite for Food Catalogs

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Small- to mid-sized food catalogers had median sales growth of 7 percent in the holiday season with consumers outperforming business-to-business, according to a poll by Catalog Solutions, a catalog consultancy focusing on the specialty food segment.


"Most of the food catalogers we polled had a downturn in the business-to-business gift side with lower average orders and lower response rates," said Tony Cox, president of Catalog Solutions, Richardson, TX. "But the consumer side more than made up for it.


"The mailers have more consumers than corporate names on their house files. For example, a mailer with a 20,000-name, 12-month buyer file may only have 2,000 corporate customers and 18,000 consumer names. Your corporates can be way down, [yet] since so much more of the business is coming from consumers, if they are up just a small amount, it will offset the corporate loss."


Catalog Solutions polled 65 catalogers, including 10 of its clients. Cox said clients raised circulation an average of 11 percent, though several cut circulation and revised creative.


"With one client, we went from a slim-jim to a full-size book, and sales for that client were flat following a 25 percent cut in circulation," he said. "The strategy for that client was to take the dollars spent on what had been an annual circulation of 1 million in 2001, cut it back to 750,000, saving about $125,000. We went from a slim-jim to a full-size book while investing $75,000 to $80,000 in new creative, new photography and going to a full-size book."


Other poll results:


· 20 companies reported sales growth greater than 20 percent.


· 10 firms posted sales increases of 10 percent to 20 percent.


· 28 companies posted sales improvements of up to 10 percent.


· Seven firms reported sales decreases.


Catalogers also indicated that sales started slowly, but picked up in December.


"It was a late season, and a lot of people were hurting in November. But December came on like gangbusters," Cox said. "After Dec. 1, there was a big bump followed by another one after Dec. 7. Then it was a race to the finish. These bumps are always expected, but they were bigger than usual."


Catalogers polled included citrus marketer Gregory's Groves, Silver Springs, FL; Kansas City Steak Co., Kansas City, KS; Lobster Gram, Chicago; Maple Grove Farms, St. Johnsbury, VT; Tex-Mex cuisine marketer Pedro's Market, Lubbock, TX; deli goods marketer Zingerman's, Ann Arbor, MI; baked goods marketer Rowena's, Norfolk, VA; and James' Candy Co., Atlantic City, NJ.


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