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Food Catalogers See Heavy Growth in Holiday Sales

A median sales-growth rate of 15 percent was generated by 90 small to midsized specialty food catalog companies in the holiday 2003 season.

The results were part of the January Food-by-Mail Industry Update released yesterday by Catalog Solutions, Richardson, TX, a catalog consulting firm that works exclusively in the specialty food industry.

Among companies reporting results: 20 percent posted sales growth exceeding 20 percent; 24 percent generated sales growth of 10 percent to 20 percent; 47 percent reported growth not greater than 10 percent; and 9 percent produced a sales drop.

Also reported was an average circulation rise of 13.8 percent while the overall increase in sales per catalog mailed was 8.7 percent.

Other factors in the marketplace:

· Sales rose faster than marketing expenses.

· Online orders increased from 22 percent in 2002 to 28 percent in 2003, which cut order-processing costs.

· Most mailers increased shipping and handling charges, which more than offset increased delivery expenses.

· There was a rebound in corporate gift sales, which have much higher average order amounts than consumer orders. From Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, the company received 750 specialty food catalogs, revealing several mailing trends, including:

· Median page count was 24, the same as a year ago, while the average was 28.2 pages, down from 29.4 last year.

· Catalog dimensions are expanding, as 71 percent of the catalogs were full-size, up from 57 percent a year ago. Also, 7 percent were slim-jims, down from 18 percent last year, while 13 percent were digest-size books, down from 19 percent. In addition, 6 percent were trimmed-down full-size books while the remaining 3 percent were a mix of letters, solo mailers and brochures.

· Catalogers continue to mail later. Two years ago, 4 percent of the catalogs received arrived during the first week of December compared with 10 percent in 2002 and 14 percent in 2003.

· For the first time in the five years that catalog arrival dates have been tracked, the first week of December was the busiest week of the season, followed by the fourth week of October when 12 percent were received. In the first week of November, 11 percent of the catalogs were received.

· 37 percent of the catalogs had an offer, down from 44 percent last year. Of these, 52 percent offered a gift, up from 49 percent a year ago (the gift was usually a product featured in the catalog); 22 percent offered free shipping, up from 17 percent last year; 12 percent offered percent-off discounts, down from 17 percent; 8 percent offered dollars off, down from 13 percent; and 6 percent contained other offers, up from 4 percent a year ago.

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