Fruit by Mail: Why?

When I took his direct marketing course at NYU back in the early 1980s, Milt Piece taught us that “the ideal mail order product is one that is not available in stores.”

But the catalog company Harry & David sells mainly fruit (also chocolates and cakes) through mail order … all of which are also available in stores.

An article in the October issue of Catalog Success notes that Harry & David has annual sales well over half a billion dollars a year.

Why do you think they are able to generate these huge revenues selling mostly pears, apples, grapes, and other produce you can get at your local supermarket?

What’s the secret of Harry & David’s success?



142 thoughts on “Fruit by Mail: Why?

  • Laziness? More convenient to send gifts to people by ordering through those companies. Also, for those who the sender has no clue as to what they want or what they already has, and figures everyone eats.

    Vanity (Exclusivity) for oneself in some circles. Maybe they feel if they say they get their fruit and candy from this company it’s like gourmet. (I’ve seen people do this.)

    Pride at sending someone something “special” or “unique” because it came from that supplier.

    Curiosity – if enough people have to order, just to see what’s so special about these products. (Better taste good for back up sales!)

    That’s all I can think of right now, but sure I could come up with more if I had too.

    I will say that I’ve been tempted before by these, but haven’t fell for them yet. But what tempted me when I can find such a good selection at the local Wal-Mart? The fact that some of these companies were offering me the opportunity to buy on pre-approved credit. Thankfully, my brain kicks in before I order!

  • Exclusivity.

    They are either selling a premium product, access to a product that isn’t available at ALL stores in ALL areas of the country (or their delivery area) or are really good at differnetiating themselves form the local green grocers or supermarket.

    Repeat back end sales to boost the profit margins.

    Integration into an exisitng logistics environemnt is probably helping also.

    And economies fo scale. To make half a BILLION dollar a yea they must be selling an awful lot of apples.

    Plus some people may be uder the impression that going to the store to select their own fruit is time consuming and worth the aded price.

    Fiona Fell – The Profit Maximsing Web Geek

  • Because they make nice gifts. I’ve received two H&D fruit baskets. The fruit wasn’t anything different from what I’d get at the supermarket; however, the presentation was nice and the fruit itself was in superb condition given it had been shipped.

    I’d send an H&D fruit gift if say someone I knew had purchased a new home and lived thousands of miles away from me.

  • Does anyone know how much of their sales are gift orders, as opposed to people ordering for themselves? If it’s largely gifts, then in a sense, they’re not selling the fruit … they’re selling the packaging and shipping.

  • Philip: that’s a great question. I would guess 75% gifts and 25% personal use. Why? For gifts, you are right: they are selling the packaging, shipping, and convenience. But the catalog copy and photos make the fruit look so luscious, many people also order for themselves. The copy and photography is so good, I often run out and buy pears — that’s how mouth-watering they look and sound!

  • I think Sunnyland Farms, inc. (www.sunnylandfarmscom) says it best, in their catalog letter from Jane Willson, part founder of the company, when talking about their “FAMOUS-FOR-FLAVOR” Pecans. She says they’re “a bit better.” She goes on to explain, “We take a little more time buying and processing. And we try to serve our customers a little bit better.” Indeed, Sunnyland Farms ships “more boxes of pecans, other nuts and fruits by mail than anybody in the country.” Even Harry & David? (I confess, I’ve made it a holiday tradition to send my favorite clients Harry & David towers as gifts.) A different company, but the same idea of selling something by mail that, yes, you can get at the supermarket – but it’s just “a bit better.” Or perhaps Jane should say “a bite better!”

  • Hi Bob,

    I have a good client in Michigan who has provided a significant portion of my revenue over the last several years. I live in Florida, so two years ago for Christmas, I sent a case of oranges and a case of grapefruits to their office (from a mail-order fruit company here in the Sunshine State). I received the usual e-mails of appreciation sent in the holiday spirit. So last year, just to mix it up I decided to send them chocolate – not just any chocolate, but Mickey’s Chocolate from Disney World (not cheap either). While I did get a message or two of thanks, I did actually receive the same candid question from several in the office…Where’s the fruit???

    Maybe Harry and David are on to something…


  • It’s REALLY good fruit. My grandparents used to receive the Fruit of the Month club from a client each year. Each month we waited to see what delicious treat would be arriving. I don’t think Harry and David’s quality is quite as good as it used to be then – they’re so big now that it’s probably difficult to maintain that level of selectiveness. But they still offer a much better product than we can buy locally. Our grocery stores in the DC area have AWFUL produce. (Even Whole Foods’ produce is often mediocre – and they are the best in the area.) The Harry and David’s fruit seems to be picked closer to ripeness and arrives fresher. It’s definitely more flavorful than the tasteless, expensive stuff we have to choose from in our local stores.

  • I know the answer here – it’s “Not too much.” (!)

    A colleague of my husband’s sent us a Harry & David gift basket last Christmas. Some fruit and some chocolates. Wonderful stuff. We ate it all up and wanted more.

    So I got the catalog a month or so later, and ordered us a box of pears. Of the 10 pears, I think we ate 3.

    The gift box had excellent quality stuff, and not too much of it.

    (I hope his pal sends us another box this Christmas. Needless to say, I won’t bother to order more pears!)

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  • I used to work at H&D in Medford, Oregon packing those fruit baskets. The big secret is that the fruit is the same as the fruit you get in the stores. We workers were trained to pick out the ones without bruises and if there were bruises how to hide them from view.

    My favorite thing to do while I worked there was to go shopping in the outlet store near the production factory. At the time I could not believe someone would pay such high prices for a pretty basket of colorful fruit. I think that the reason for the high sales is that the displays are very attractive. It isn’t that you get better fruit, it is just that the overall effect is delicious looking.

  • Haven’t you noticed that the fruits purveyed by your local supermarket have absolutely no real flavor any more? I think it’s because the growers feed their trees and plants with petroleum-based fertilizers. Whatever the reason, H&D’s products always tasted far better and juicier than the A&P’s. Granted, I haven’t had any H&D lately but if they’re smart enough to make that much money, they’re probably smart enough to buy their products from organic growers, who rebuild the soil constantly, providing all the ingredients necessary to insure delicious produce. Anyone shopping for my Christmas present can send me the Fruit of the Month any time!

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