Ah the food gift, that wonderfully trendy present that combines two things people love: yummy morsels that tantalize the taste buds and the thrill of being the recipient of someone else's thoughtfulness. On the strength of gift-giving centric occasions such as birthdays, Valentine's Day and winter holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa), U.S. food gifting sales reached an estimated $21 billion in 2014, up 5%, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts in the report Food Gifting in the U.S., 4th Edition. Resurgence by the American middle class after a period of post-recession adjustment also played a role in the market's growth, and sales are projected to increase an additional 5% by the end of this year and again by 5% in 2016.

"Clearly, the recession had a very significant impact on historical sales trends, as the highly discretionary nature of food gifting became significantly affected by disposable income trends. But as consumers have fought their way out the recession, so, too has the food gifting industry. Of particular importance, are signs of growing food gifting strength among middle-income consumers, which bodes well for a market that has relied heavily on higher-income consumers to tow it through and out of the recession. If Middle America is ready to spend more on food gifts, the industry will see brighter days ahead," says David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts.

Data published in Food Gifting in the U.S., 4th Edition indicate that some 42% of U.S. adults have purchased at least one specialty food gift for someone else during the past year. Of these purchasers, 33% bought specialty food gifts for between three and four people, 22% bought them for two people, 23% bought them for one person and 22% bought them for five or more people.

Food gifters are most likely to give their gifts to a spouse/significant other, in large part because of the many holidays and events spouses/partners share over the course of the year. Packaged Facts data indicates that almost half of food gifters have made purchases for a spouse/significant other. In second place are Mothers, with more than a third of food gifters giving to their moms. As for non-family members, more than a third of food gifters have purchased a specialty food gift for friends in the last 12 months, but barely a tenth have for a neighbor or coworker.

Examining the demographic profile of food givers, Packaged Facts found that:

Adults age 35-44s are especially likely to buy food gifts for fathers, mothers, service providers and coworkers, while those age 65+ are more likely to purchase for friends, children and extended family.

Those from $150K+ income households are more likely than average to purchase food gifts for friends, children, extended family and neighbors, while those from <$25K income households (likely young respondents) are most likely to purchase for mom and dad.

Hispanic food gifters are most likely to purchase such a gift for mothers, African American food gifters are most likely to purchase them for siblings, and Asian food gifters are most likely to purchase them for coworkers.

Rural households emerge as key food gifters to mothers, fathers, siblings and coworkers.

By food gifting occasion, among adults age 18+ who have received a food gift during the past year, more than half (54%) have received one for the winter holidays, almost twice as many as those who received one for their birthday and more than twice as many who received one for Valentine's Day. More than 10% of adults have received one for Easter, an anniversary, Mother's Day, or Thanksgiving. Food gift recipients for the latter three occasions are most likely to be less than 45 years old, be either African American or Hispanic, and from a household with an income under $50. Interestingly enough, anniversary and Thanksgiving giftees are most likely to be male.