ST. LOUIS — As consumers remain socially distanced to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the food gifting market is positioned to provide comfort and care, according to a report by Packaged Facts, a division of Market Research Group. Brands such as St. Louis-based Sweeter Cards stand to benefit.
Sweeter Cards offers a selection of greeting cards combined with gourmet chocolate bars. Founder Stacy Stahl launched the company in early 2019, partnering with a local chocolatier and a handful of female graphic designers around the world to develop more than 30 options. Each card features playful messaging and eye-catching designs, plus a sea salt caramel dark chocolate bar produced in small batches. The products are sold in specialty retailers and grocery stores in California, Texas and throughout the Midwest.
Prior to launching Sweeter Cards, Ms. Stahl founded HowHeAsked.com, a marriage proposal website that she sold to TheKnot.com parent XO Group several years later.
“As a young female entrepreneur surrounded by other women who are constantly building me up, I’m always looking for ways to say, ‘Thank you,’” Ms. Stahl said.
Pairing premium chocolate and a heartfelt note hit the sweet spot as a thoughtful yet affordable gesture. As she assembled a small gift for a friend, inspiration struck for her next business idea.
“From that aha moment to the first round of production took a few months,” she said.
Food gifting sales in the United States rose at an annual rate of 4.9% between 2014 and 2019, exceeding $21 billion, according to Packaged Facts, which forecast continued momentum in the years ahead but noted a slowdown in activity at the onset of the pandemic.
“In the first three months of the pandemic, retail buyers weren’t prioritizing us,” Ms. Stahl recalled. “Things started shifting … and we saw a major increase in the second half of the year.”
A challenge of Ms. Stahl’s business model is merchandising. The products may be stocked in the chocolate aisle, the greeting card aisle, the floral department or near the checkout, but connecting with the correct retail buyer can be tricky, she said.
“In grocery, a lot of times the holiday buyer and chocolate buyer and greeting card buyer are separate,” she said. “We’ve done great in floral departments in a handful of chains and great in greeting cards in others.”
Sweeter Cards options span a variety of occasions, including weddings, congratulations, Mothers’ Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day and more. The most popular item is a birthday card featuring a cheeky one-liner.
“My goal is to be in every greeting card aisle in every store in America,” Ms. Stahl said.