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Making the Most of Mail-Order Food

875_R_17ea0581Mail-order food is big business – according to David Sprinkle at Packaged Facts, online/mail-order sales of food and beverages will hit $12.8 billion in 2013, and the winter holidays are high season: 48% of Americans order some form of food gift around the holidays.  Here are some tips for getting it done right.

Order now. If you want to order a food gift, start thinking about it now and look for cut off dates so that you know your food will get to its destination by Christmas, says Karen Blakeslee, research and extension food scientist at Kansas State University. If it’s perishable, ship it same day or overnight. “For non-perishables, like coffee, tea, dried meats and cheeses, you’ll be able to choose the less expensive shipping options,” explains Blakeslee. And, if the website can’t specify exactly when your gift will land (for instance, if you want it fresh for New Year’s Eve or Christmas Day) don’t hesitate to get on the phone with customer service and order through them.

Give the recipient a heads up. Especially if you’re dealing with perishable food, Blakeslee suggests letting the recipients know that it’s coming so that it doesn’t sit out all day. (I often send ice cream and let the recipient know that “something” is on its way — no need to be specific). “I know it’s nice to surprise people, but when it comes to food, you want to call and tell them it’s coming,” Blakeslee says. Baked goods are often less of a risk, unless they are intended to be refrigerated or frozen.

Get what you paid for. Have the recipients of your gift tell you whether or not the food came on time, if it’s of good quality, and if everything that you paid for is there. If the shipping fell through or the product shows up ruined, then don’t be afraid to bring it up…shipping companies need to know, and so do the food companies.

Understand how to go DIY. If you’re shipping a food item yourself, then you really need to talk to the company you’re shipping with, says Blakeslee. Have them spell everything out for you — the folks at UPS, FedEx and the Post Office deal with this on a daily basis this time of year, and they’ll have suggestions for how your item can get to its destination in tact. And it never hurts to compare prices by shipping method — you’d be surprised at the large variations.

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