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By Emma Pinedo and Elena Rodriguez

MADRID (Reuters) – There will be far fewer corporate parties over Christmas as big gatherings are banned due to the pandemic, but in Spain, better-than-expected sales of seasonal gift baskets are going some way to making up for foregone festivities.

Ranging from a small present to elaborate parcels containing wine, liquor, Iberian ham and assorted sweets, the holiday baskets are a common way in Spain to thank employees for their work over the last year.

With many customers struggling because of COVID-19, companies specialising in the packages had expected 2020 to be a bust, as was the case during the 2008 financial crisis.

Instead, they were surprised to find that while business from the hardest-hit sectors like tourism was down, other industries increased orders and new clients appeared.

“A big chunk of the budget from cancelled Christmas dinners has gone to Christmas gifts. That includes companies that are doing it for the first time this year,” said Moises Barroso Barrios, commercial director of gift company Rojas Barrios.

“This has given us a big boost.”

Pepa Alarcon, marketing director of Lotes de Espana company – one of the leaders in the sector – said one reason employers were sending gift baskets was to maintain motivation among staff, most of whom were working at home.

“As they cannot get together they have decided to go for the Christmas parcel. The idea is to get together while keeping a distance,” Alarcon told Reuters.

This year the value of the average order had risen to 50-60 euros per basket from 30-40 the previous year, Alarcon said, adding that the company was hoping to match last year’s sales.

“That would be good for us, considering that at first we thought we would have a significant drop in sales.”

With the focus in 2020 being very much on health, some companies have branched out. Rojas Barrios is offering a special deal with a private health insurance firm along with its baskets.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Elena Rodriguez and Michael Gore; Writing by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Mike Collett-White)

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