NEW YORK — Sales for the holiday season were expected to increase over last year for Web-based shopping, online grocers told SN. Most cited a stable economy and the continued growth of e-commerce for the projected increase.
“We expect sales to be up significantly,” FreshDirect President Steve Michaelson said. “We expect strong double-digit growth. We continue to grow at a strong rate, and New Yorkers have a tendency to turn even more to us during the holidays.”
FreshDirect, based here, has a stronger holiday selection this year, Michaelson said, including products and services for Thanksgiving. He said he expected to sell “a couple of thousand” fully cooked Thanksgiving meals, which range from $149 for a 12-to-14-pound turkey serving four to six people to $299 for a 20-to-22-pound turkey serving 14-18 people. Each meal includes a turkey, stuffing, choice of four side dishes, gravy, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, zucchini bread and dessert.
FreshDirect this year added a recipe feature on the website, and it includes dozens of Thanksgiving recipes in traditional, vegetarian, fuss-free, gluten-free and exotic categories. “The last thing we've added this year is a signature FreshDirect brining blend,” Michaelson said. “The best turkeys are brined, and we have a 1-pound bag [of brining mix] for $9.99.”
In addition to the full meals, FreshDirect offers a wide range of prepared individual items for Thanksgiving, including main dishes, side dishes, desserts, appetizers and beverages.
Peapod, Skokie, Ill., isn't doing much different this year for the holidays aside from trying to improve their offerings over last year, according to spokeswoman Elana Margolis. “In general, we have more prepared foods, and every year we look to improve [our holiday dinners] with better side dishes or more gourmet offerings. We have a new line of prepared foods in Washington and Chicago, launched about a month ago as year-round offerings, but a lot of people are using them for the holidays. We already had some [prepared foods], but we've really expanded quite a bit, and we are finding people are enjoying prepared meals, most of which are heat and serve.”
Margolis said Peapod is expecting sales to be “relatively the same, if not better. Each year sales get better as service expands in general, and with the general growth of the industry.”
Margolis credited high gas prices earlier this year for driving customers to the online grocery segment. “Gas prices were the reason people were shopping online,” she said, “which is one thing we've learned from our customers.”
Like FreshDirect, Peapod isn't doing any price promotions for the holidays. “We don't do free turkeys or anything like that,” she said. “It's just business as usual. It is our busiest time of year during the holidays, and we staff up on drivers and pickers and packers.”
Peapod's heat-and-serve holiday dinners include either a turkey or ham dinner with sides and dessert for $69.99 or a similar prime rib dinner for $79.99. All serve eight to 10 people.
SimonDelivers, New Hope, Minn., doesn't offer anything special for the holidays and isn't doing much different compared to last year, although the online grocer cited the holiday season as the busiest time of year.
“We offer those [fully cooked meals] year-round,” said Steven Lauder, vice president of customer relations. “We have an expansive line of fully cooked meals, and we don't go out of our way for the holidays. [However,] we do organize the store [website] based on holiday events, like categorization of wines, turkeys, different versions, etc. Americans eat very traditional during this time, and we just try to keep up with them.”
Lauder said sales with be “stable,” compared with last year. “Things are going well, just with the continued growth and expansion of e-commerce.”
Some traditional supermarkets also are leveraging their websites to drive holiday meal sales. Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., whose website is run by Peapod, offers customers the convenience of ordering fully cooked holiday meals online, and picking up their orders at a local Stop & Shop. The retailer introduced online ordering last year, and it proved to be very successful.
“One of our biggest promotions is our prepared turkey meals for Thanksgiving and other holidays,” said Rob Kean, media relations manager, Stop & Shop. “Customers can order on the phone or online, and the meals come cooked [need to be reheated] and come with a 12-pound turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry relish, broccoli au gratin, rolls, and your choice of pie.” The prepared meals cost $59.99 each and serve eight to 10 people.
Norman Mayne, chief executive officer, Dorothy Lane Markets, Dayton, Ohio, said he expected a big selling season at Dorothy Lane's Internet-based mail-order business, which sells and delivers the store's signature prepared food items and specialty groceries nationwide.
“Our website is becoming a very successful business venture for us, and a lot of it is about the holidays,” he said. “We have over 400 specialty items there, and we encourage people on the site to send food to a friend.”
Additional reporting: Jon Springer