Natural Foods Merchandiser

Prepare for the party

So your customer has a holiday party to attend and doesn't know what to take as gift for the host or hostess? You can help. "A lot of retailers have a hard time creating big gift items," says Debby Swoboda, a natural foods marketing and merchandising expert in Stuart, Fla., and founder of "But creating something little that could be taken as a hostess gift could do well both for the retailer and the shopper." Try these unique gift ideas and merchandising strategies recommended by natural products retailing experts.

Go local. "One of the categories that works well as a hostess-type gift is locally produced products," says John Santos, general manager of Cirelli Marketplace in Middleborough, Mass. Think homemade jams, herbal salves, aromatherapy soaps and local honey. For example, Santos started selling the handcrafted soap of a husband-and-wife team who live near the store. Each week, the store sells 20 to 25 bars of soap, but during the holiday season, sales jump to about 100 bars a week. "From the retailer perspective, it's an excellent ring," Santos says. "It's a connection to the community. It's a unique product. And if you're on the receiving end, it feels special. It's not Ivory soap; it's rosemary-scented or lavender-scented soap."

Merchandise it: Santos simply attaches a bow to products and puts them on a display rack or an endcap. To choose a location for the display, envision the buyer. "When you think of party-goers, they aren't necessarily senior citizens or little kids," Swoboda says. "Put the display or endcap in the path of the target demographic."

Drink (or dip) to the occasion. Wine is always a winning host gift. But a twist on the theme is sparkling beverages. "You have to be careful if you're going to the party of someone who doesn't tolerate alcohol," Swoboda says. Sparkling beverages have the elegance of wine without the fermented fruit—and without the higher price tag. Another welcome alternative to wine: dipping oil, such as an extra-virgin olive oil pressed with lemons. "It doesn't have to be flavored oil, but those are popular," says Santos.

Merchandise it: Tie raffia around the bottle's neck and attach a gift tag. Or display bottles with wine bags and use simple signage, such as "Great for Gift Giving. Buy a Case!"

Get a little nutty. Nuts, like whole cashews, are pretty—and a tradition at holiday celebrations. Help guests provide the host with this popular party fare.

Merchandise it: Package a pound of nuts or dried fruit into a bag, a deli container or a bulk peanut butter container. "Then put a piece of holly or poinsettia on top," says Swoboda. "Mark it up so it covers the cost of labor to prepare the gift and the doodads that go on top." A good location for packaged nuts? Near the register for impulse shoppers. "People will snag it and go," Swoboda says.

Create a recipe. Look around the produce section of your store. Would your customers know what to do with a pomegranate? A persimmon? How about jicama? Maybe not. "You can create a display of uniquely different items and what to do with them," Swoboda says. Put together, the product plus how-to recipes create a fun hostess gift.

Merchandise it: Put the fruits, vegetables or other items in a display bin, endcap or stacking table, along with takeaway recipe cards. Hang a sign on the bin that reads "Great Hostess Gifts" to tie together the whole display. If the recipe includes more than one item, you can wrap ingredients together. "Some people take hostess gifts straight from the store to the party," Swoboda says. "They're willing to pay a little more for the convenience of having it wrapped." Also, consider traffic flow when picking a location for this type of gift. "It doesn't need to be by the cash register," says Swoboda. "If people need to read something to decide whether they're going to make the purchase, they don't want to be disturbed in a busy area."

Package it just for her (or him). "A hostess gift doesn't always have to be something that can be shared; it can be just for her," Swoboda says. After the host has run himself ragged to prepare for the party, he'll welcome a gift that keeps giving: a foot soak or a bath salt, for example. "We're sensitive to the pocketbooks of our customers," says Abby Mullen, health and beauty aids category manager for Sprouts Farmers Market, a Phoenix-based chain of 31 natural products stores in four states. "So we partner with vendors to offer many bodycare gift items for under $20."

Merchandise it: Attach ribbon to individual products. Or use shelf talkers to clue in customers that all the products in a particular section make great hostess gifts. The shelf talker, which could simply read "Host Gifts," projects out and away from the shelf, so customers won't miss it.

Give for the future. "Gift cards are really profitable for retailers," Swoboda says. Customers gain an advantage, too: Because the card amount can vary, gift cards offer customers flexibility in their giving. "If customers aren't sure what to get a hostess, they can give a gift card," Mullen says.

Merchandise it: "We have great luck with clip strips," says Santos. Clip in gift cards and position the strips in between sets all around the store, including by the registers. Put a bow on top where the strip hangs to imply the seasonal significance. "Customers may not be thinking of gift cards as they enter the chip section, and they may not pick a gift card from there," says Santos. "But their eyes passed over the gift cards as they moved from chips to pretzels, and it got imprinted in their head. Maybe the third or fourth time they see the gift cards around the store, they might actually act."

Grow a gift. Plants, especially flowering poinsettias or Christmas cacti, make a lasting impression. Santos often looks for a good buy on plants and then packages them for the season. Merchandise it: Put a colored foil sleeve around the plastic plant container to dress it up. As an alternative, attach a bow to the pot, or put the plant in a wicker basket. Check out your local arts and crafts store for affordable packaging ideas, Santos suggests.

Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup

The perfect accompaniment to a special occasion, this syrup infused with wild hibiscus flowers and raspberry and rhubarb flavors adds a colorful, fruity splash to a classic champagne cocktail or sparkling water.

Numi Exotic Flowering Bouquet

Nothing wraps up a holiday meal like a comforting cup of tea. When each of these five tea bundles is dropped into hot water, it unfolds to reveal jasmine, lavender or other striking blooms. Showcase the teas in a display with tea balls, teapots and teacups.

Celtic Sea Salt Light Grey

A gift of gourmet salts sets the tone for a feast for true foodies. The Celtic Sea Salt brand comes from a coastal region of France, is packaged in a certified organic facility and is completely unprocessed. Put together the salt with organic sesame seeds from the bulk section, mortar and pestle, and a recipe card for gomasio (sesame salt), which can be sprinkled on oatmeal, roasted vegetables or savory soups.

Bija Extra-Virgin Old Grove Greek Olive Oil

Olives are handpicked from 600-year-old trees in a remote Greek hillside town to create this peppery, limited-edition culinary oil. Perfect for drizzling on bread, salad or pasta. You can expand this gift by presenting the oil alongside a favorite brand of balsamic vinegar.

Flower Peddler Fizzing Bath Bloomers

Made for the after-party when it’s time for the hostess to kick off her shoes and relax. Who needs chocolate when she can dip into a bath of bubbling bonbons that release skin-softening cocoa butter, shea butter and olive oil? You can combine this product with a natural-fiber skin brush and paraffin-free candles.

Pamela Bond is a freelance writer in Eldorado Springs, Colo.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 12/p. 20

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