MAUMEE, Ohio (AP) _ A specialty food franchise that does its best business during the holiday season has purchased a mail order company in hopes of strengthening sales throughout the year.

''We've recently decided we have got to be responsive to changing trends and shopping habits,'' Hickory Farms President Thomas Frank said Monday as he announced that his company had bought Almond Plaza's mail order business.

Almond Plaza, which features almond and other nut gifts, was owned by Blue Diamond Growers of Sacramento, Calif.

Details of the sale were undisclosed.

The purchase is part of the Maumee-based company's effort to grab a larger slice of the $20 billion specialty food market, Frank said.

Hickory Farms already has a mail order business which makes up about 10 percent of its sales.

''We decided to take our existing mail order business and make it stronger for the future,'' he said.

The privately held Hickory Farms operates more than 300 stores and 1,000 holiday gift centers across the United States.

Although sales always have been strong around Christmas, the company has been focusing on its pre-holiday season sales. The company believes there is a strong future in the mail order business, Frank said.

Research consultant Maxwell Sroge said there was tremendous growth in mail order marketing in the 1980s because of an increase in the number of two- income families and a decrease in time to spend shopping.

Consumer mail order revenues nationwide are expected to reach $91.5 billion for 1991 and may top $100 billion in 1992, he said.

The Almond Plaza operation will be moved to Maumee, allowing Hickory Farms to hire an additional 100 full-time consumer service representatives, 25 production workers, 25 seasonal workers and as many as 10 full-time production workers.

Hickory Farms was founded in 1950, at about the same time the shopping center industry began, and grew with it in the 1960s and 1970s. At its peak, Hickory Farms had 550 stores.