EASTPORT, Maine — The summer tourists and the fall leaf peepers are long gone, but cyberspace sales are keeping at least three small Down East boutique food producers as busy as ever with the run up to Christmas.
“Overall our Internet sales are 25 percent of our sales, and a significant portion of those — over 50 percent — happen in November and December,” said Karen Raye, the co-owner and manager of Raye’s Mustard Mill and Museum in the Washington County community of Eastport.
Billed as America’s last traditional stone-ground mustard mill, the company has been in the Raye family for four generations and has been concocting specialty blends of mustard for 112 years. Earlier this year its Down East Schooner Mustard won a gold medal in the Classic American Yellow Mustard category of the 2012 World-Wide Mustard Competition.
“The holidays are our shoulder season, and online sales are the bulk of our retail business,” Raye said. “Our customers, including our holiday customers, are very loyal and come back every year. We do a lot of corporate gift baskets, like lawyers who send holiday gift baskets to their clients. Sometimes those clients call and say ‘I got this great gift basket last year and want to send one to a friend.’”
Another holiday client stream this year, Raye said, has been Internet customers who first visited Raye’s Mustard earlier this summer as passengers on the small cruise ships that tied up at the Eastport waterfront. Many of the passengers who came ashore boarded vans for guided tours of the city, which included a stop at Raye’s Mustard Mill and Museum.
“In many cases we were able to capture their contact information, and we sent them a flyer right after Thanksgiving, which is a perfect way to drive people to our website,” she said.
Holiday gift orders keep the company’s six full-time, year-round employees busy, Raye said. So does demand for mustard products stocked by grocery stores and samples required for off-season specialty product trade shows. The Eastport retail store at 83 Washington St. is open year-round.
Winter Harbor smokehouse buried in cyberspace gift orders
The Grindstone Neck of Maine smokehouse in the Hancock County community of Winter Harbor is swamped this time of year with Internet orders for its array of smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked shellfish, smoked cheese and other products processed, packaged and shipped from its Newman Street location.
“We process Internet orders year-round, but there’s a seasonal flourish during the holidays, hundreds of orders,” said owner Carl Johnson, an award-winning chef. “We see a lot of repeat orders. Probably 25 percent of the gift orders we send out this time of year are repeat customers.”
On average a typical holiday gift order received from cyberspace during the holiday season is in the $75-$100 range, Johnson said. Last week the smokehouse was processing a $3,000 corporate gift order that required generating 30 personalized notes printed on distinctive gift cards that are produced in-house. All holiday orders are shipped within hours of being received, processed and packed, as Johnson is adamant about his smoked seafood and smoked cheese products never being frozen.
The biggest wrench in Grindstone Neck’s holiday gift machine, Johnson said, has been shipping costs.
“That’s the one cost factor we have little or no control over,” he said. “In recent years shipping costs have gone up 9-10 percent a year.”
Johnson said the holidays also drive an increase in orders from commercial customers, including restaurants that feature Grindstone Neck of Maine’s smoked salmon and other products as culinary fare for corporate Christmas parties.
“It’s a busy time of year for us,” he said.
Lubec confectioner too busy for words
It’s also wicked busy at Monica’s Chocolates in the Washington County community of Lubec.
In fact, owner Monica Elliot, who learned the intricacies of making bonbon fillings as a child from her father in her native Peru, found herself way too busy Saturday to discuss in detail by phone how busy she is during the holiday season.
“We do a lot of Internet orders this time of year,” she said. “But there’s a batch of something I need to deal with right now, so I’ve got to go.”
Her offerings include traditional Maine needhams — chocolate covered, potato-based confections that she makes plain, with almonds or with wild Maine blueberries — and truffles that she flavors with blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. Her extensive confectionary repertoire also includes chocolates shaped like lobsters, dolphins and fish.
Elliot’s retail store is located at 100 County Road in Lubec.