Dec. 4, 2013 at 8:57 AM ET
Whether you've decided to fill your own holiday table with treats from across the country, or you're sending gifts to friends and loved ones, how do you know your purchases will arrive on time and intact? TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky put some companies to the test.
Mail-order food is big business — according to 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 percent of Americans order some form of food gift around the holidays. Here are some tips for getting it done right.
If you want to order food as gifts, start thinking about it now and be sure to look for cut off dates so that you know your food will get to its destination by Christmas. If it's perishable, do same day or overnight delivery.
For non-perishables like coffee, tea, dried meats and cheeses, you'll be able to choose the less expensive shipping options. And, if the website doesn't allow you to specify exactly when your gift should land (for instance, you may 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.
Let the recipients know
Even though it's a gift, and you might want it to be a surprise, you really need to let the recipients know that it's coming so that it doesn't sit out all day — especially if you're dealing with perishable food. (I often send ice cream and give recipients a heads up that "something's" coming.) Baked goods are less of a risk, but if it's intended to be refrigerated or frozen, then people need to know.
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.The recipient needs to let the sender know if it doesn't come in one piece. If the shipping fell through or the product shows up ruined, then don't be afraid to bring it up. Shipping companies needs to know, and so do the food companies.
Communicate with your shipping company
Most of these companies have been in the business for a while, but if you're shipping it yourself, then you really need to talk with the company you're shipping with. Have them spell everything out for you. They may be able to pack it up for you, but really, the folks at UPS, FedEx and the Post Office deal with this on a daily basis this time of year. Let them help you. (It also never hurts to compare prices among shipping companies if you have the time.)
Great companies to try:
1. Greenberg Smoked Turkey from Texas
I've received these before, and they're delicious. A 9-pound turkey is $45 before shipping. (http://gobblegobble.com/)
2. Chesapeake Crab Connection
The holiday dinner for two from Chesapeake Crab Connection includes 50 littleneck clams, a dozen large crabs, a pound of shrimp (raw), a jar of cocktail sauce and mallets. ($110, http://www.ordercrabs.com)
3. Junior's Cheesecake
The original strawberry cheesecake is a 4-pound cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and strawberry pie filling on the top. ($44.95, http://www.juniorscheesecake.com/)
4. Saratoga Sweets
Saratoga Sweets makes bright pink peppermint pigs that you can break with a little hammer — an old holiday tradition unique to the New York town they're made in. ($15.95, http://www.saratogasweets.com/)
Scoop up a naturally-cured cheddar from these World Championship Cheese award winners. The apple pie cheddar is aged over 10 months and tastes delicious when melted atop a slice of apple pie in the old-fashioned tradition. ($34.95, http://www.figis.com)
Or go for an apple cookie pie, a caramel apple treat that sits atop a buttery cookie crust. It's filled with dried, tart apples with pecans and brown sugar mixed with caramel. ($29.95, http://www.figis.com)