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Tis the season for gift baskets

Mississippi-made food products popular gifts for employees, clients

Holiday gift giving among business employees and associates can be a chore or a welcome respite from the usual routine. What’s appropriate to give the boss? Should we draw names within our department? What unusual gift can we give to our clients this year?

Spokespersons for Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Baxter Healthcare in Cleveland, Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg and McCarty Construction Company in Tupelo said their companies do not have official policies to govern gift giving among employees. Those decisions are left to the various departments where employees know each other better and work together closely.

“The ladies of our company sponsor an elderly person at Traceway Home and we play Santa for him or her,” said Laura Pannell, director of business development and community relations for the McCarty Company. “As for gifts among employees, people do what they’re comfortable doing.”

She added that the women also celebrate each other’s birthdays throughout the year by going to lunch and treating the birthday girl.

Annie Jenkins, human resources director for Ameristar, said, “We have no official gift policy but some departments draw names and have a secret Santa. That way they don’t have to buy gifts for everyone in the department. Several departments bring food in for luncheons, too.”

Whether businesses are looking for employee gifts or impressive gifts for clients, Andrea Yeager of Andrea’s Annex in Long Beach has the answers. “A gift of food is always enjoyed,” she said. “We have everything from little happies such as mulling spices, tins with candles, soup bowls with soup mix packets, and apple martini mixers with rimmers. These items start at $6 and go up.”

Other small but delightful gifts include ornaments filled with dip mix, hand-dipped chocolates and packets of cocoa, cider, flavored coffee and chai. She says the hottest drink going this year is the mojoto, a Mexican mint julep that has surpassed margaritas — and she has the sugar-free version. Many of these products, along with others, go into the gift baskets she makes this time of year.

“We have gift baskets, bags and boxes starting at $15 and up,” she said. “For corporate gifts, one ideal basket is the one filled with Mississippi products.”

However, because many of these Mississippi companies are small and do not mass-produce, she needs a good lead time to get in all the products. She will also work with businesses to customize their gifts with items bearing company logos, special ribbons and dietary needs.

Some of those Mississippi products include a cake-in-a-jar from Natchez, brownies-in-a-jar from Gulfport, salad dressing from Biloxi and barbecue sauce from Ocean Springs.

“I can also do double or triple layer baskets or boxes in layers,” Yeager said. “It’s all in the way they’re put together.”

Cheryl Fletcher, owner of Forest Paper Company in Hattiesburg, says stationery makes great business gifts and she does in-house printing. “A lot of what we do here is personalized. We take good quality stationery and personalize it,” she said. “People who receive correspondence on these papers do pay attention to it.”

The stationer says it’s important to put quality into gifts of paper and pens. She also suggests wrapping paper, ribbon and nametags.

“Combine a few things that are fun or classic. Everyone loves that,” she said.

The shop also does a lot of wrapping for businesses and holds gift-wrapping classes at least twice a week this time of year.

Thousands of corporate gift baskets are done each holiday season at The Everyday Gourmet in Jackson. The shop encourages companies to place orders as early as possible and offers an incentive for doing so.

“We ask our top companies to call in by November 15 and we give them a bonus of a discount on shipping or an item,” said Elizabeth Smith, who manages that part of The Everyday Gourmet. “Some orders are for 100 or more baskets.”

Smith says Mistletoe Marketplace kicks off the holiday season in Jackson, and the shop is very busy from that time on. They will take orders until Christmas week but can not guarantee the shipping time.

“We will ship until December 23 but we do not recommend waiting because we run out of some products,” she said. “Most corporate people know this and do order early.”

They too find that a basket filled with Mississippi- made products is the most popular gift basket. “Companies like to ship these out of state and want to send things the recipients can’t buy where they live,” Smith said. “They come in with their lists and we take care of the rest.”

Among the many baskets they offer are a Mississippi memories basket, Mississippi sampler and a snack-lovers basket. “The snack-lovers basket is good to send to an office because it’s tins of cookies, pretzels and other items that are ready to open and eat,” she said. “Our top of the line is the Best of The Everyday Gourmet Basket that sells for $200.”

Some companies choose to send towers of tins filled with food items. Collectibles such as ornaments, pottery, kitchen gadgets and cookbooks can also be put in baskets. Or, Smith says, the gift doesn’t even have to be a basket. “Sometimes we use mixing bowls and cookie sheets as the basket,” she said. “Some businesses get the same thing every year and some want to come in and pick out each item.”

She says the shop is okay with either way customers want to choose their gifts. A lot of local people also buy there for their employees.

“We have a crew of basket makers who come in from mid-October and stay through Christmas,” Smith added.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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