How Hickory Farms learned what customers want in their gift baskets by using search queries

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Searches for terms like wine, wine gifting, and gift basket resulted in a 1,000 percent boost in traffic for the cured meat and cheese provider.

Hickory Farms gave cubed samples of cured pork and cheese throughout the holiday season to everyone who grew up going to suburban malls in the 1970s and 1980s.

That was Hickory Farms in the past. Now Hickory Farms sells wine and champagne baskets, as well as contents suggesting the best matches for its charcuterie boards and a category of keto-friendly and gluten-free branded baskets, all of which are available on its e-commerce site.

It is part of a rebranding effort that began in 2019, following the company’s acquisition by a private equity firm. The objective was to turn Hickory Farms into a year-round e-commerce destination rather than a seasonal gift basket catalog. To do so, it spent a lot of money on email marketing campaigns, focusing on current consumers whose email addresses it had collected via online catalog queries. Marketers then looked at search history inquiries to see where there was open space in the gift basket categories. As a result, Hickory Farms expanded into other product categories, resulting in the acquisition of additional customers.

When the pandemic drove physical businesses to close, demand for gift baskets – especially those containing alcoholic beverages – rose as people sought to connect with loved ones they couldn’t meet in person. According to Judy Ransford, Hickory Farms CMO, traffic growth rates climbed three to four times as a result of the SEO effort and Covid-19 purchasing trends.

“Because so much of that was driven by introducing new customers to the business, we’ve been able to maintain those growth rates in our post-Covid world,” Ransford said.

“Retailers started to see consumer behavior shifting back down from that Covid Peak in the spring, but we’ve still been able to maintain growth rates in the range of 200% over our 2019 position.”

Providing customers with what they’re looking for

Even before the pandemic, the team discovered there was a lot of interest in wine and wine gifts thanks to that extensive research into billions of search history inquiries. Hickory Farms bought California Delicious in 2019 to satisfy demand and created baskets with regional products from the state.

With evergreen content, Hickory Farms was able to produce a section devoted to the most famous wines per state and made a guide to wine giving that covers meal combinations, taste preferences, and specific wines for various occasions, to set themselves apart.

Mike Gullaksen says: “We identified a way to differentiate ourselves from the competition so we could get people linking to and sharing content, which ultimately resulted in an improvement in search rankings.” He is the CEO of NP digital, a partner of Hickory Farm’s agency.

The results showed traffic from searches for terms like wine, wine giving, and gift basket increased by 1,000 percent.

Recipes for summer cocktails and sangria, as well as tips on how to make mimosa bars, charcuterie boards, and the finest wine and chocolate pairings, are among the sharable and useable materials.

All of that stuff is being utilized to its full potential. It is being promoted with paid advertising and is being included in email marketing campaigns by the marketing team. The team is also tagging the brand and displaying professional photos of the recipes on Pinterest.

According to the search history data, Champagne, spicy items (think Bloody Marys), and the savory snack collection were among the categories that Hickory Farms was able to turn around fast. Some goods simply required fresh branding, such as glutenfree baskets, because many of the brand’s previous products do not contain gluten; the glutenfree basket is now the company’s best-selling item. When the company’s senior manager of merchandising and product development, Vivian Adams, went to a trade fair recently, she made sure to bring back more gluten-free goods for future baskets.

Physical stores relaunching

Hickory Farms had 500 mall-based kiosks and businesses before Covid-19 spread. Most of these halted during the pandemic, and the current aim is to establish stores in strip malls during the holiday season. The objective is to get people to go from the online to the stores, and vice versa. Customers will be able to order online and pick it up in the shop, much like many other merchants.

Meanwhile, the marketing team discovered that gift messages might provide additional information. The team sifts through the communications to figure out why baskets are being delivered. It’s a method to make sure the company has as many sentiment-specific categories as possible, and it’s aided in the invention of new ones like the Date Night Gift Basket, which contains numerous salty treats, Uno, Phase 10, sausages, and cheese.

Admittedly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new popular one sounded something like this: “You’re in lockdown with kids, so we know you need this wine.”




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