Just a Few Steps Above Mystery Meat

Contrary to what some might say, I don’t like kicking a company when it’s down. And goodness knows Harry & David is down. But after ordering a Father’s Day gift from the food mailer, I can see why its top and bottom lines have been on the decline.

Harry & David has always tried to set itself apart by, among other things, promoting its Create-Your-Own gifts. My father, like most 80-somethings, has his share of dietary restrictions, so this seemed the safest way to go.

The product page for the Create-Your-Own 4-Pack Snacks & Pretzels Sampler has a pop-up menu listing the snacks you can select. What it doesn’t have are descriptions of those snacks. What exactly is the Super Party Mix? How many grams of fat are in the Sesame Sticks? Clicking each option should have called up details about each, but didn’t.

I ended up opening another tab so that I could search for each option’s product page on HarryandDavid.com to determine which products would be best for Dad. Unfortunately, the on-site search couldn’t locate product pages for all of the items, such as the Honey Wheat Dipping Pretzels. Does Harry & David not sell them as a stand-alone item? Am I supposed to take it on faith that this option meets my father’s dietary requirements?

If Harry & David wants consumers to view the company as a standout in the ever-more-crowded field of food gifts, it needs to prove its credentials by serving shoppers an abundance, if not an overabundance, of information. In its heyday, when people had fewer options and were less knowledgeable about nutrition, less anxious about allergies, and less concerned about their diets, Harry & David could have gotten away with providing less in the way of facts. But those days are gone, along with Harry & David’s reign as the master of the food gifts category.

(And it’s not as if Harry & David is even resting on its laurels of serving sizzling creative in lieu of meat-and-potatoes information and usability, as anyone who has watched the evolution—or devolution—of its catalogs and website over the past few years can tell you. And in fact I did tell you, in this blog post last October.)

Omaha Steaks does a somewhat better job. Its Create-Your-Combo packages works on the old Chinese-menu model: Pick one item from group A, one from group B, and two from Group C. Within each group it includes a thumbnail photo of each option and a link to a pop-up product description. Granted, the descriptions don't include calorie counts, nutrition information, or lists of ingredients. But they do provide the serving sizes of the entrees and a general idea of what to expect. Here’s the description of the 4 oz. Italian Breaded Veal Patties: “You’re halfway to a terrific Veal Parmesan! Delicious ground veal in the seasonings of Old Italy coated with bread crumbs, Romano cheese, garlic and cornmeal ready to sauté and serve.” So if, say, cheese is a deal-breaker, you at least know enough not to order this option.

What’s more, I was able to find the product pages for Omaha Steaks' various options by using the on-site search, and those product pages include not only nutritional and ingredient information but also preparation instructions. Ideally the pop-up descriptions on the Create-Your-Combo pages would link to these pages as well, but at least Omaha Steaks shows that it’s aware of the importance of this information to shoppers.

Regardless, I ordered from Harry & David, primarily because I’d done so the previous year and my father hadn’t complained about it. A few days later, Harry & David emailed me: “We are concerned with the summertime temperatures that the yogurt pretzels that you ordered may not arrive in perfect condition. If that is the case, please call our customer service department and we would be happy to replace them with a non-yogurt variety…”

Well, that’s pretty sporting of the company, was my first thought. But my second thought was, Harry & David would have been better off not offering the yogurt pretzels as an option to begin with. Having to replace the item would cost the company money that it certainly can’t afford. And seeing as the order was a gift, a package containing soggy pretzels would leave a bad taste in both the recipient’s and the customer’s mouths; who wants to go to the hassle of calling customer service to make good on a present?

While the proactive measure on the part of customer service is worthy of kudos, the fact that it needed to be done at all is one more sign that Harry & David isn’t as knowledgeable about its product range as it should be. And with consumers becoming more and more knowledgeable, that doesn’t bode well for its turnaround efforts.

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