The winter holidays are a time when traditions come into sharp focus. This rings true within the beverage alcohol industry, with producers, wholesalers, and retailers practicing traditions of adding value for their customers. Gift sets and baskets are keys to spreading holiday cheer. “Our accessories department workers make 100 baskets a day or more,” says Matthew Landolt, manager of Viscount Wine and Liquors in Wappingers Falls, New York. “The gift baskets can be made on a moment’s notice.”
Gift sets are packaged in eye-catching boxes; often include rocks glasses, snifters, Champagne flutes, coffee mugs, or shot glasses; and are priced the same as a standard 750-ml. “We never buy a gift set higher priced than the regular shelf price,” says Landolt. “It’s a tradition in the industry not to do that.”
In Columbus, Ohio, Weiland’s Market stocks about 15 different gift sets. “That number will grow to about 25 or 30 before Christmas,” says beverage manager Patrick Gerold. Gift sets featuring brown spirits are big sellers at Weiland’s, and Woodford Reserve ($35 a 750-ml. with two rocks glasses) and Grand Marnier ($35 a 750-ml. with two Glencairn glasses) are leaders. Entries from local producers like Watershed Distillery ($60 for a trio of 750-ml. bottles of Bourbon) are gaining popularity, Gerold notes.
With the second wave of Covid-19 stoking trepidation and uncertainty, this holiday season will be different. Social distancing will limit holiday parties and this is anticipated to have an impact on retail sales. Retailers are tweaking their holiday sales strategies and streamlining selections.
Viscount Wine and Liquors plans to carry about 40 gift sets this year, down from its usual. “I bought fewer, and I’m not buying as many types of non-popular brands,” Landolt says.
While Viscount sells Champagne gift sets such as Mumm ($45 for a 750-ml. and two Champagne flutes), the most popular gift sets at the store primarily feature brown spirits and cream liqueurs, such as Baileys Irish Cream ($32 a 750-ml. with ceramic bowls) and Carolans Irish Cream ($13 for 750-ml. with a coffee mug). Top-selling whisk(e)y gift sets, each coming with two rocks glasses, at Viscount include The Glenlivet ($50 a 750-ml.), Maker’s Mark ($32 a 750-ml.), Woodford Reserve ($37 a 750-ml.), and Jack Daniel’s ($29 a 750-ml.).
Most baskets Viscount sells are pre-made with 3-4 wine bottles, retailing from $20-$30. Baskets with 5-8 bottles usually cost $50-$70., Viscount usually sells a couple of thousand during the holiday season, with more than 100 baskets a day often being sold closer to Christmas. Viscount has two employees working exclusively in the store’s accessories department, which features a lengthy glass gift basket showcase and counter featuring dozens of pre-made baskets. “During the holidays we might send a cashier over there to help make the baskets,” Landolt says. “We also do a lot of wrapping as we get closer to Christmas.”
While Weiland’s offered custom gift baskets with beverage alcohol past holidays seasons, the store is not providing the service this year. “Due to Covid-19, I’m not doing any custom baskets this year,” says owner Jennifer Williams. “We expect gift card purchases to increase significantly. Gift baskets take a significant amount of time to do, and I need to leave my time free this season to support the basics.”
As the holiday season unfolds, retailers are expressing guarded optimism. “In the long run, people buy whatever gift sets we have until they’re gone,” Landolt says.