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Tourism foodies help drive traffic and sales

Culinary tourism is a growing thing here and in many regions of the country.

Whether it's a family vacation or a West Coast bus tour, plenty of people are finding their way to places like Harry & David and Rogue Creamery during their travels.

A new survey commissioned by Harry & David shows food comes into play when people plan itineraries.

Nearly two-thirds of consumers surveyed (62 percent) said they would recommend a vacation destination based solely on its food or cuisine. Younger travelers are even more apt to let their palate be their guide, with 71 percent likely to recommend a travel spot for its food alone.

The Regionally Inspired Food Survey was conducted by research firm Wakefield Research, with 1,017 respondents between Aug. 19-25, 2015, and 1,021 respondents between April 4-8, 2016. The survey revealed people look forward to food no matter where they travel, with 82 percent eagerly sampling local food and restaurants when arriving at new destinations. Nearly three in five said they are most likely to seek out restaurants where locals eat, to ensure they get the true flavor of the culture.

Harry & David has put a new twist on the gourmet travelogue with a picnic basket of unique regional foods from New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Austin, Texas. People may not be able to visit those locales regularly, but they can sample their foods via the baskets.

"We do baskets really well, we do Christmas really well," said Kari Geyer, Harry & David's merchandising manager. "But when they're not thinking about Christmas during their spring and summer traveling, they're chasing food, too. There are so many areas of the country that have amazing foods. We don't always get the chance to travel to all these places and taste their food."

The baskets, retailing for $99.99, are sourced regionally and packed in Medford.

Harry & David has attracted about 5,000 visitors annually over the past three years, but has already seen 6,700 in 2016, said spokesperson Rhonda Klug, thanks to a series of tour buses.

The travelers may not be loading up on baskets, but they have plenty of interest in trying Moose Munch and other Harry & David kitchen confections. Those visitors often stop up the road at Rogue Creamery, as well, home of the internationally honored Blue Cheese.

"We're frequented by cheese lovers and individuals who have a passion for food," said Rogue Creamery co-owner David Gremmels. "We see buses and private tours with established organizations doing culinary, wine and beer tours in Southern Oregon."

Geyer said Harry & David's new line relies on many existing vendors, but has added new products to the company's fold.

"There are some products you don't normally see in our gift baskets," she said. "I don't think it will necessarily draw more people to our region, but it will lead them to our company — digitally."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

You might not be able to visit New York this summer, but Harry & David can deliver a sampling of foods inspired by the city. Image from harryanddavid.com