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Amazon Serves Up Gourmet Cuisine

The online retailer begins offering regional food items in its latest move to diversify from selling books and music.

November 10, 2003|From Associated Press

Have a craving for Le Cochon d'Or smoked ham from Cap-de-la-Madeleine in Quebec? How about some Yarmouth Island lobster hors d'oeuvres or Mama Africa's Zulu lemon, garlic, jalepeno relish?

Those and thousands of other regional specialties are being offered by online bookstore giant Amazon.com in its latest move to diversify from its core business of selling books and music.

Amazon has launched a gourmet foods store, offering more than 30,000 regional food items from about 300 merchants, including foods from most states and ethnic offerings from many countries. There are more than 700 different cheeses alone.

Amazon isn't the first company to go online with gourmet foods; others include Epicurious .com and Gourmetfoodmall .com. But those names are much less well-known than Amazon's.

"This is such an incredibly fragmented industry that it makes sense for a large player like Amazon.com to consolidate all of these brands under one store," said Carrie Johnson of Forrester Research.

Amazon expanded into clothing last November, a venture Johnson said has had mixed success, and is in beta testing to offer sporting goods.

The food products are shipped directly to customers by the merchants selling on Amazon's Web site.

"Frankly, when their retail partner is doing all the fulfillment of this type of product, which is really where the biggest cost is in gourmet foods, Amazon wins because they only have to sit on the front side of that transaction," Johnson said.

Amazon's site includes offerings from large national merchants such as Omaha Steaks and Dean & DeLuca, along with smaller merchants such as Alaska Smokehouse and Sticky Fingers restaurants in the Southeastern United States.

From Minnesota, Schwan Food Co. of Marshall is offering the more than 350 products available through its home delivery service -- items such as chicken Wellington and burgundy peppercorn beef sirloin roast. Watkins Inc. of Winona offers its vanilla extract and 28 other items.

General Mills Inc. of Minneapolis sells Cascadian Farm brand products on the site; Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp. sells its Herdez, Patak's, Peloponnese and House of Tsang brands, and Minneapolis-based Marshall Field's sells Frango chocolates.

Jason Goldenberger, who manages Amazon's gourmet foods store, said the Seattle-based company plans to continue adding merchants.

"It's a great way for Amazon.com to take advantage of our technology and it's a one-stop place where our customers can find tens of thousands of products," Goldenberger said.

Prices on Amazon are the same or lower than on the merchants' own Web sites, he said. A price comparison of Schwan's whole Cajun turkey showed the product priced at $39.99 on both Amazon.com and Schwan's Impromptugourmet.com site.

Schwan Vice President John DeVos said the company is pleased with the number of orders it has received on Amazon since beta testing of the site began last month.

Schwan also sells its products on its own Web sites and has some offerings on EBay. However, Amazon enables the company to reach a much larger audience, DeVos said.

"We look at Amazon as a nice way to supplement our overall business and our overall business line," he said. "But we don't expect the volume will ever reach the volume that we do on Schwans.com. It will be just a fraction of that."

Schwan, which has sold products online since 1999, expects Internet sales will continue to grow as people become more familiar and confident with the delivery service, DeVos said.

Hormel spokeswoman Julie Craven said Amazon is a good fit for the company's ethnic products that have a more limited distribution.

"It's a great way to get products that might be a little harder to find available to pretty much everyone," Craven said. "Anytime you have an association with a channel that has high volume, high name recognition, that's going to make a difference."

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