Feature Article - January/February 2008

A Moveable Feast

Gourmet Food Serves Up Business Solutions

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister

Trends in gourmet foods

Finally, rely on gourmet food pros to keep you up-to-date on food trends that may affect your future programs. A few up-and-coming trends that suppliers mentioned include a more global palate, a continuing focus on healthy lifestyles, more attention to freshness, quality and healthy ingredients, personalization, and more options for expanding a program's impact.

As consumers travel more and learn more about other cultures—and their food traditions—through the media and other outlets, their tastes expand, according to Henthorne. "This, in addition to the growing Hispanic population, draws attention to the need for expansion in ethnic food categories. Omaha Steaks has done this and will continue to develop these kinds of items," Henthorne said.

Many of these ethnic foods—from the Mediterranean diet and beyond—are part and parcel of a continuing and growing focus on healthy lifestyles. "Consumers are looking for products that satisfy their gourmet palates yet contribute to healthy lifestyles," Henthorne explained. "Flavor without compromise is important within this trend. Products that fit portion control and calorie counts are meeting with great success in the marketplace. We work closely with portion control and nutritional guidelines to ensure healthy options while not sacrificing taste. We do see more buyers being sensitive to vegetarian and other dietary restrictions."

Fairytale Brownie's Spitalny said this trend extends even to her company's sweet offerings. "We're finding that little, individual, portion-controlled sizes, in different flavors that are meant for sharing, are meeting a need."

“Gourmet Means...”

"Gourmet means it is unique and limited. Gourmet is a perception of value."
—Dan Vorland, LaCense Beef

And consumers' attention to their health naturally extends to the products' ingredients, which need to be fresh, high-quality, healthy foods. "Because of Mrs. Fields' recipes and the fact that we see ourselves as a gourmet indulgence, we are unable to participate in some of the latest trends such as organic, sugar-free and low-carb," Alvey said. "We have, however, been able to reformulate our items to be zero trans fats."

"We're finding an underlying current in the industry about going green, in terms of all-natural products," added Vorland of La Cense Beef. "Buyers want to know more about healthy products. It gets back to sending the message that your company cares about its employees, its customers and their families. What message do you want to send to employees and customers about your company's philosophy of health and environment?"

Personalization is also key. "We see a trend that the more personal you can make it, the better," said Josh Kaye, president of Bake Me A Wish, a gourmet cake delivery service that is available nationwide. "Personal has an impact."

Spitalny said Fairytale Brownies also is seeing more requests for personalization and customization, even on lower quantities—a request she said the company is adapting to.

"Many of our customers now assume that customization and personalization are a standard requirement or benefit of this process," added Mrs. Fields' Alvey.

Finally, many gourmet food suppliers are incorporating more options for extending the impact of your program. As an incentive buyer, you may be seeking ways to associate your company with worthy causes, extending the impact of rewards a bit further to benefit local or national causes. Gourmet food suppliers are making that possible in a variety of ways. Here are just a few examples:

  • Legal Sea Foods donates a portion of its fourth-quarter gift certificate sales to Children's Hospital in Boston and New York.
  • Bake Me A Wish annually donates roughly 5,000 cakes, along with 5 percent of all its Web sales, to the Make A Wish Foundation. The company also launched "Operation Birthday Cake," a goodwill program operated by Soldier's Angels, which provides gourmet birthday cakes to troops overseas.
  • Nationally, Fairytale Brownies helps KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds throughout the country. And locally, it donates thousands of pounds of brownies to the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in the Phoenix metro area.
  • Ten percent of the purchase price of Harry & David's UNICEF Commemorative Globe and Organic Royal Riviera Pears supports UNICEF's goal of helping children around the world.

Regardless of how you choose to use gourmet foods, your employees, your customers and your prospects will remember the experience—and your company—long after the last sumptuous bite is gone.