Food, glorious food catalogs

From soup to nuts — literally: If it’s edible, it’s sold via catalog. And apparently consumers have a healthy appetite for buying food remotely. New York-based media brokerage services firm ParadyszMatera puts the active 12-month buyers universe for food catalogs at 8.94 million for the third quarter of 2005, accounting for about 5.2% of all consumer catalog buyers.

Year over year, the size of that 12-month active buyer file has declined 3.8%, from 9.29 million for the third quarter of 2004. Among individual titles, however, there have been some marked examples of growth. Take Omaha Steak’s A La Zing spin-off, which specializes in prepared meals. Its 12-month buyer file has grown 89% during the past year, to 73,000 names. Another cataloger of precooked meals, Home Bistro, increased its 12-month buyer file 38%, to 40,000 names as of the third quarter of 2005.

Those house files are mere crumbs compared with the buyers file of the market’s number-one title, Harry and David: Its masterfile exceeds 1.7 million 12-month buyers. Omaha Steaks’ buyer file is meaty as well, with more than 1.3 million 12-month buyers.

Seventeen percent of the food catalogs offered at least one incentive during the first nine months of 2005. That’s significantly below the 31% for all of last year. But it’s most likely a seasonal anomaly, as the fourth quarter is the most active time for food offers. It’s a safe bet that once the year has ended and all the holiday promotions have been tallied, the percentage of food books that offered free shipping and handling, deferred billing, or other incentives will be more closely aligned with last year’s 31% total.

House file universe: food catalogs
3Q 2003 4Q 2003 1Q 2004 2Q 2004 3Q 2004 4Q 2004 1Q 2005 2Q 2005 3Q 2005
Total universe 8.80 8.60 8.91 9.52 9.29 9.17 9.37 9.50 8.94
Food catalogers with the largest active buyer files
Rank List name 3Q 2005 house file universe Average order
1 Harry and David Mail Order Buyers Masterfile 1,721,830 $140
2 Omaha Steaks Buyers 1,324,669 $90
3 Swiss Colony Catalog Food and Gift Buyers 755,331 $75
4 Figi’s Fancy Food and Gift Buyers 735,840 $83
5 The Popcorn Factory 372,461 $55
Source: ParadyszMatera

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