Attack Aftermath: Perishables Mailers Spared Excessive Spoilage

The tragedy of Sept. 11 grounded airlines and effectively halted business nationwide. While many mailers scrambled to notify customers expecting packages via next-day-air that their items were likely to be late, catalogers with perishable merchandise had reason to worry that their product would spoil on the nation’s tarmacs.

But the food catalogers contacted by Catalog Age suffered only minimal losses, largely because September is one of the slowest times of the year for them. As John Bauman, president of Monroe, WI-based gifts cataloger The Swiss Colony, says, “Very little of the food gifts are ordered that early in the season.” Food gifts account for about one-third of Swiss Colony’s overall sales.

“September is really the preseason for us,” agrees Eileen Schlagenhaft, marketing director for West Palm Beach, FL-based Cushman’s Fruit Co. “We’re in the Florida citrus business, and our product isn’t ready to ship until mid-to late-November.” Cushman’s uses a drop-shipper for its white peaches, which generally ship on Mondays or Tuesdays. The company was able to hold back its Sept. 11 shipments, Schlagenhaft says.

While no orders were stuck on airplanes for Cody, WY-based Wyoming Buffalo Co., president Vicki Allen says during the week of Sept. 11 her order-takers reminded all customers that their orders would likely take longer to ship as a result of the restrictions on air travel.

“September is not our peak season, but we continued to receive orders throughout the week of the tragedy,” Allen says. “We informed those customers that airline restrictions made it difficult for us to ship items out right away. But customers were understanding, and they asked that their orders just be held until they could be shipped out.”

“We don’t ship over the weekend, and we didn’t have anything in transit when the attacks happened,” says Joel King, sales manager for Charles City, IA-based King’s Nature Ranch, which sells exotic meats such as ostrich and bison. “We contacted all of our customers who were expecting deliveries to go out later that week and let them know that their items would be about a week late.”

Customer service staff at Ann Arbor, MI-based Zingerman’s also contacted many of its customers whose orders had shipped out on Sept. 10 for delivery on Sept. 12. “Most deliveries ended up arriving Thursday or Friday,” says catalog director Maurice Frechette, “so the customers didn’t experience more than a regular late arrival.”

Minimizing the spoils

Although few of catalogers’ perishables spoiled en route to customers, some food mailers did have to deal with the risk of spoilage within their distribution centers. “Some breads were lost soldiers,” Frechette says. “They weren’t going to sell because of the dropoff in calls and store traffic, so we gave them to a local charity.”

As for the cataloger’s other perishable merchandise, Frechette says the company “pulled the plug on our shipping early Tuesday and didn’t cut any of our cheeses so that they wouldn’t spoil.”

All told, the team at Chicago-based Lobster Gram estimates its damages from the attacks at about $83,500, says creative director Nancy Batio: “That includes packages that were shipped Monday [Sept. 10] and not delivered in time for the perishable items to still be edible, loss of business due to packages that we were unable to ship, and loss of business due to customers not calling in the aftermath of the attacks.”