Lorraine Koshman doesn’t get much sleep at night. The Morris National v.p. is in charge of the company’s Canadian gift basket division and her mind is always coming up with new ideas.
“My mind if always racing,” she says.
Indeed, she’s constantly trying to figure out which products work best in which baskets, how to create gifts that come in at or below the coveted $19.99 price point, and what items work best as the vessel that consumers can keep long after they eat all their chocolates.
And her office is filled to the brim with prototypes of everything from a wicker sled to a bird house.
While gift baskets commonly contain sweets like chocolate and candy, and Koshman is in effect running her company like a buyer on behalf of those gift baskets, the process is nothing like it is for a typical retail buyer.
She finds products that might work and then her team of three graphic designers creates custom packaging for the items so that everything in each basket matches.
“All the food I get comes in foil or trays. And I have 50 girls that just put the food in the boxes, because everything has to be color coordinated. So if you look at a basket that’s all red, you’re going to find that we do a lot of baskets to make everything work together — it’s all color-coordinated,” she explains. “So when we do a blue basket, all the boxes are blue and silver or blue and everything. They have to work with all the different people.”
After that, she presents the baskets to traditional retail buyers at companies like Costco, and then they decide what they want to stock for the next holiday season.
Koshman has been with Morris National for 27 years. They hired her almost three decades ago because they were a food importing company looking for ways to get their products into the hands of new consumers.
Back then, they had one production line to create the baskets. Today, they have five, and a warehouse that holds as many as 2,500 finished pallets in Lasalle, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. There’s also a warehouse in Toronto, and another in Vancouver, and 350 employees working from July to December to get everything done.
Their biggest customers are club stores like Costco, which draw orders all the way up through the week of Christmas.
“They want to have baskets until the last day,” she explains.
Indeed, club stores are the ideal retailer for the baskets.
“When people go to Costco, they’re going there with an open wallet. You don’t go to Costco and spend $100. You can try, but I can’t. I go in there and I spend, I go in there with a card, I don’t even bring cash anymore because there’s no point,” she explains.
And the stores reach the most common target market for the baskets, women looking for gifts for teachers, cleaning ladies and doctors. Corporate gifts are also a big part of the business though.
Koshman works for Morris National’s Canadian division, but the company also has a U.S. gift basket business.
She says there is a contrast in what Canadians look for compare to Americans.
“The baskets are designed differently,” she says. “Our food [in Canada] is all slanted and artistic. There [in the U.S.] when you get a little basket, everything is standing up like soldiers and it’s all shrink wrapped. Here it’s all flare top. The tissue matters, the fabric, and in the U.S. they use cardboard. They’ll have a red cardboard. They use a plastic tie to tie the flare at the top.”
Of course, the most important thing about the gift basket is the price point. They have to be less than $19.99 to really sell. It’s the difference between moving 100,000 gift baskets at less than $19.99, and maybe 5,000 at a higher price point.
“All the volume in gift baskets, it’s all under $19.99,” she says.
When Koshman is looking for new products, she says sweets always sell extremely well, like cookies, chocolates and even beverages like tea. And while they do have savory baskets, they just don’t move off the shelf in the same way.
The most popular brands for the gift baskets include Starbucks, Ghirardelli, Lindt, andGodiva.
Koshman is also a loyal attendee of the Fancy Food shows, and says she often finds new products at the events.
And if it all works out, it can be a win-win situation for the manufacturer and Morris National.
“We’re advertising for you [the manufacturer],” she explains. “If you get into a basket that’s 100,000 pieces – in Canada that’s a lot – and you go into all these homes, then your name is there. It’s free advertising.”
Every detail of each basket has to be thought out though.
“So I have a buyer for food, I have buyer for the vessels,” Koshman explains. “I have one girl that does all the ribbons, you have no idea. The details, all the trays and cardboard, it’s unbelievable the stuff that we have. When you come in July, ‘It’s like how are we going to get through this?’ It’s mountains and mountains and mountains of stuff.”
Of course, it’s not just what goes into the baskets — it’s one they come in. Sometimes it’s a mug, sometimes it’s a lantern.
“We try to make the container just as nice as the food,” Koshman says. “We want someone to have something left over.”
Sounds like a sweet foundation for a gift that’s fun to give — and if you’re a candy maker, be a part of.
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