'It's disappointment in a basket': Toronto gift company delivers spoiled fruit, dead flowers

Customers of a Toronto gift basket company are warning other consumers after their orders arrived late, and were filled with rotten food or dead plants. The company's website shows glowing reviews, and it gets four stars on Google, but other review sites warn of terrible customer service and no refunds.

'We want people's anniversaries and birthdays to be special,' Hazelton's manager says

Rotten apples arrived as part of a birthday gift basket for Susan Wood that was ordered by her brother. She says it likely sat unrefrigerated for days before it was delivered to her home. (Submitted by Susan Wood)

Customers of a Toronto gift company are warning other consumers about food baskets they ordered that were reduced to spoiled, rotten messes by the time they arrived.

Fred Wood said he used Hazelton's service in hopes of giving his sister a happy birthday. 

"It's disappointment in a basket," sighed Wood, who spoke to CBC Toronto from his home in Peterborough, Ont., where he's a professor at Fleming College.

For his sister Susan's mid-July birthday, Wood used Hazelton's website to order a gift basket with more than $200 worth of fruit and cheese, and a custom chocolate cake.

It was supposed to be delivered the same day. 

Five days later, the basket landed on Susan Wood's front porch at her farm in Rockwood, Ont., about 83 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

"It was a gooey, liquefied, sticky mess," she recalled, the scorching summertime temperatures peaking in the mid-30s.

The cake was so "squished down that it looked like chocolate pancakes," she said. As for the gourmet cheese and candy apples — well, forget about it.

A not-so-happy birthday cake arrived days late at Susan Wood's home. The company blames the delay on an address mix-up, which the customers dispute. (Submitted by Susan Wood)

The siblings immediately reached out to the company's customer-service email address, sending photos. They also tried to reach someone by phone, but say their efforts were fruitless.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Hazelton's has an F rating, the lowest the bureau gives out, for failing to respond to customer complaints. In the last three years, there have been 89 complaints about the company on the BBB website, with the company failing to respond to 81 of them.

After emails and phone calls went unanswered, CBC Toronto managed to track down Mark Roberts at a warehouse in Scarborough in suburban Toronto. He identified himself as the Canadian manager for the Gift Group, an American company that runs Hazelton's.

In a phone call later, Roberts said his workers do everything in their power to get orders right.

"We want people's anniversaries and birthdays to be special."

One of Hazelton's Greater Toronto Area (GTA) locations, a warehouse in Scarborough. (Shannon Martin/CBC Toronto)

A not-so-sweet surprise

Jon Liland, 49, was hoping to make his long-distance girlfriend in Nanaimo, B.C., feel special earlier this month, so he ordered an orchid, teddy bear, chocolates and wine for delivery.

The oilpatch worker, who lives in Calgary, says that when he Googled "gift baskets Nanaimo," Hazelton's came up as one of the top companies in the area.

Monica Eaton was thrilled when a huge cardboard box arrived on her doorstop last week, but things quickly went downhill.

The box was upside down. The orchid inside was long dead, with soil spilling, staining some of the contents.

"I smiled for, like, a second and then I was like, 'I have to clean up this mess,'" said Eaton.

Jon Liland didn't realize the orchid and all the goodies he personally picked would be making a cross-country trip from a warehouse in the GTA to his girlfriend's place on Vancouver Island.    (Submitted by Monica Eaton)

Liland said the response from Hazelton's customer service was "cold and pre-made."

He was told in an email that as outlined in the company's terms and conditions, he should've selected overnight shipping to preserve the plant.

"Honestly, I just wanted them to replace the product or send a refund," said Liland. "That's terrible customer service just to say, 'You didn't read our 10-page document, so it's your fault.'" 

Roberts told CBC Toronto that Liland was offered a store credit, but Liland said that hasn't happened.

Liland paid $49.99 for 'Lenny - The I Love You Bear,' but says his girlfriend got another bear instead, along with a flowerpot he didn't pick. ( by Monica Eaton)

Poor labelling

Susan and Fred Wood said the company offered to replace the spoiled birthday cake, cheese and fruit, but at a cost. They didn't feel that was right.

Hazelton's blamed the delivery delay on an incorrect address, but that was disputed by the siblings. 

"It's the same address Canada Post has been delivering to for the last 40 years and they've never missed a birthday card or package I've sent to Susan over the years," said Fred.

"That excuse didn't seem to wash."

The Woods also question why Hazelton's only labelled the box as fragile, not perishable. It was delivered by Canpar Express, a courier service that, according to its website, advises against shipping "goods requiring protection from heat or cold."

CBC Toronto's requests for information from Canpar have not been answered as of this publishing time.

Siblings Susan and Fred Wood urge customers to read reviews before placing orders online. (Submitted by Susan Wood)

Reviews: be wary of what you read

Roberts, Hazelton's Canadian manager, pointed to the company's Google rating of 4-plus stars, according to about 1,700 reviews.

But Patrick McKeen, president and CEO of the BBB's central Ontario region, said you can't always trust what you read.

"There are businesses that are organized around trying to control reputation management and will try and clean up negative reviews on Google."

Hazelton's is not accredited with the BBB and, according to its profile, has 11 alternate business names.

McKeen warns consumers to read reviews from multiple sources., he said, vets all posts to ensure the writer has actually had a transaction with the business.

"We have more than approximately four million page views by local southern Ontario consumers every year on our site, and that's consumers looking for information about businesses like this one, and the record on this particular business is not a good one."


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