The popularity of food gifts is undeniable. In fact, according to the researchers at Packaged Facts, US food gifting sales reached an estimated $21 billion in 2014, up 5 percent from the previous year. They sell so well because we hold two things to be absolute truths: Everyone loves a gift, and we all must eat.

“However, the recession had a very significant impact on historical sales trends,” explains David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts. “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.”

In the Packaged Facts  study, “Food Gifting in the US, 4th Edition,” researchers say sales of food gifts are projected to increase an additional 5 percent by the end of this year and again by 5 percent in 2016. Data published in the report indicates 42 percent of US adults have purchased at least one specialty food gift during the past year. Of these purchasers, 33 percent bought specialty food gifts for between three and four people, 22 percent bought them for two people, 23 percent bought them for one person, and 22 percent bought them for five or more people.

Food gifters are most likely to give their presents to a spouse/significant other, in large part because of the many holidays and events spouses/partners share over the course of a year. In second place for recipients are mothers, with more than one-third of food gifters giving to their moms. As for non-family members, more than a third of food gifters purchased a specialty food gift for friends in the last 12 months, but barely a tenth did so for a neighbor or coworker.

Researchers found adults age 35-44 are especially likely to buy food gifts for fathers, mothers, service providers and coworkers, while those over the age of 65 are more likely to purchase for friends, children and extended family.

Among adults who have received a food gift during the past year, more than half 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 as those who received one for Valentine’s Day.

More information on the study can be found here.