An apple wrapped in an enigma inside a basket

They kid, but this illustrates (1) that our Galtian overlords aren’t inventing, perpetual motion machines, they’re finding new ways to overcharge people for fruit and (2) that this is one market that’s not all that rational:

“In theory, the market should have done away with Edible Arrangements long ago,” said American Economic Association president Orley Ashenfelter, who added that one of the crucial assumptions of capitalism is the idea that businesses producing undesired goods or services will fail. “That’s how it’s supposed to work. Yet somehow, despite offering no product of any worth whatsoever, this company not only makes payroll every week, but also generates strong profits.”

“It’s mind-boggling,” Ashenfelter continued. “I honestly have never even heard the name Edible Arrangements mentioned in conversation before. Seriously, has anyone?”

[…..]

“To understand this enigma, we must discard the naïve notion that free-market prices reflect what consumers are willing to pay,” Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said. “Otherwise, how else are we to rationalize the phenomenon of a human being willingly spending 84 bucks on 18 green apple wedges and a Mylar balloon?”

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92 replies
  1. 1
    srv says:

    Hey, they’re more edible than flowers.

  2. 2
    Maude says:

    Edible undies sell okay.

  3. 3
    cathyx says:

    Coffee at a coffee shop is way overpriced too but how many of us buy one? Alcoholic drinks at a restaurant/bar. There are many examples of paying way more for something than it’s worth.

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    Edible Arrangements sounds like Hannibal Lecter’s debut novel.

    Or it’s a CIA front.

  5. 5
    Sentient Puddle says:

    Show of hands, did anyone else have to Google it to make sure the article was talking about an actual company?

  6. 6
    Shinobi says:

    To me edible arrangements always say “I was going to get you something you would actually like, but I decided to get you something healthy instead.”

  7. 7
    cathyx says:

    There’s an edible arrangement store in my town.

  8. 8
    Shinobi says:

    @Sentient Puddle: These things must be incredibly popular here in the midwest. Someone gets one at the office about once a quarter and we all pretend to be happy we are eating poor quality fruit cut into shapes.

  9. 9
    Poopyman says:

    Holy crap! Google tells me this place really exists! Don’t tell me it really grosses $200M.

    I also note that the prior posting was about banana republics. I’m starting to sense a theme here. And I’m getting hungry ….

  10. 10
    Sister Machine Gun of Quiet Harmony says:

    Their profits have been suffering lately. Apparently our Galtian overlords tend to send these basket thingies to each other, which is why none of us were familiar with the practice. With the economic downturn, they have had less business business.

  11. 11
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Utility is in the eye of the consumer.

  12. 12
    jl says:

    Stiglitz is a commie. If the productive rich want to pay 84 bucks for green apple wedges and some pineapple slices and a mylar balloon, who are we, dumber and less capable mortals, to question them?

    The market provides for all according to their worth as God and/or soulless cosmic workings of economic law dictate. We can always go to Stavenhagen’s food pawn shop:

    http://FunnyOrDie.com/m/1aru

  13. 13
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    @Poopyman: Don’t tell me it really grosses $200M.

    200M?!?!?!?!?

    That’s gotta be a front for money laundering.

  14. 14
    The Political Nihilist Formerly Known As Kryptik says:

    @Sentient Puddle:

    Not me, though it was a total matter of luck. I ended up seeing one of their trucks passing by while walking to the train home. And Onion Parody Companies tend not to speed by in bright green and orange trucks.

    And it’s quite telling about the state of the nation where not only do real headlines and articles read off like Onion pieces, but now Onion pieces may as well pass for better news than the real thing.

  15. 15
    Mary Jane says:

    I received a huge “bouquet” from a friend when I was ill a couple years ago, it was pretty with a variety and large amount of delicious fruit. Probably cost the same as a flower arrangement and I appreciated the thought. A mylar balloon was not included, however. Perhaps my friend got cheated?

  16. 16
    Citizen Alan says:

    I wish someone would show this article to Stiglitz and found out what he really did think about it. I have less respect for economics as a profession than I do for politics, and I have less respect for politicians than I do for people who run meth labs. How anyone who actually lives in 21st century America can still believe in the ridiculous fables underlying our whole economic theory is beyond me!

  17. 17
    Poopyman says:

    HOLY CRAP CRAP! The franchise page tells me they’ve just started their 1000th store! How can this crap be so popular?

    Thanks to The Onion* for getting this terrible news out there.

    * — The most trusted source in news that I know of.

  18. 18
    Jack Bauer says:

    Give me edible arrangements over a doughnut tray any day. Always glad to receive them, people love it when I give them. Although I don’t spend upwards of $40…

    It’s one of those things.

  19. 19
    Poopyman says:

    @Xecky Gilchrist: That was in the Onion article, and would they lie?

  20. 20
    AliceBlue says:

    My mother received one of these for her 90th birthday and she was tickled; she had never heard of them. It was very attractive and the fruit was good, too.

  21. 21
    Suffern ACE says:

    @Shinobi: I’m glad I’m not the only one who knows about the company. I’ve gotten e-mail ads and pop-ups from them for years.

    If the choice is between a fruit basket and a snazzy fruit basket, I’ll take the snazzy fruit basket. Because it cost you more, it means you love me more.

    If you don’t like my fruit basket gift to you, next year, you’re getting a star named after you in the Star Registry. You’ll be begging for fruit then.

  22. 22
    matryoshka says:

    @Citizen Alan:

    How anyone who actually lives in 21st century America can still believe in the ridiculous fables underlying our whole economic theory is beyond me!

    You mean like believing that rationality is a factor in economics?

  23. 23
    Poopyman says:

    @Poopyman:

    Harboring doubts that such a business could generate $200 million in annual revenue, the Department of Commerce last year launched an investigation into whether Edible Arrangements served as a front for some sort of illicit trade. Internal reports reveal agents uncovered nothing illegal, and were instead “absolutely stunned” to find real, functioning storefronts with paid employees, computers for tracking actual orders, and stockrooms packed with honeydew melon balls and pineapple slices cut into the shape of butterflies.

    It’s so hard to tell if this is snark or fact. The whole paragraph.

  24. 24
    cathyx says:

    @Poopyman: Your dumbfoundedness is making me laugh. This really surprises you?
    Were you as amazed by teddygrams or pajamagrams?

  25. 25
    kdaug says:

    @Sentient Puddle: Guilty as charged

  26. 26
    Zifnab says:

    I thought Beanie Babies dispelled the myth of the rational free market fifteen years ago.

  27. 27
    Bob says:

    “Yet somehow, despite offering no product of any worth whatsoever, this company not only makes payroll every week, but also generates strong profits.”

    It took Edible Arrangements to bring these people to the conclusion that people profit off of a worthless product? Have they not seen bottled water?

  28. 28
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Sentient Puddle: I’ve seen their commercials on the TeeVee. Not been tempted to look for them on the web, though. And I know you get fruit baskets and the like at many grocery stores.

  29. 29
    Poopyman says:

    @Poopyman: Ohhhhhh. It’s worse than that, according to the affore-linked franchise page:

    Recently ranked # 9 on the Forbes Top Franchises for the Money, the top 10 hottest retail concepts by the International Council of Shopping Centers and #1 in its category in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 four years in a row, this opportunity has never been more attractive.
    __
    With over $350 million in sales and back-to-back double digit annual sales increases, Edible Arrangements® has great sales potential in any economy.

    Who are these guys?

  30. 30
    FoxinSocks says:

    I work at a biotech firm and we get them from time to time. The fruit is actually very good and hey, it’s more useful than flowers. The baskets are almost always addressed to my boss, who sets the gift basket in the kitchen, where we descend upon the fruit like starving wolves.

  31. 31
    Poopyman says:

    @cathyx: Pajamagrams? Now I am intrigued.

  32. 32
    DecidedFenceSitter says:

    Known about them for years. Used them a few times when spending the company’s money for get well presents for employees doing surgery.

  33. 33
    cathyx says:

    @Poopyman: Wow. You need to get out more.

  34. 34
    Legalize says:

    People buy stupid shit all the time. Edible Arrangements have been sent to my office as gifts a dozen times or more. To me they say, here’s a gift – it’s fruit which is more edible than flowers and won’t make you fat like chocolate. Chocolates and flowers are pricey too, ya know.

    It might be stupid, but so is buying a Jameson at a bar, when you can get a whole bottle for the price of 3 watered-down drinks at the store. A box of tea costs $3.99 at the store. Yet I’d gladly pay $2.50 for a single cup of tea at the airport at 6 in the morning if someone would let me.

    Edit: and hell, how much does a bottle of water cost?

  35. 35
    WereBear says:

    Never underestimate the Power of Cute.

  36. 36
    srv says:

    I take it those who get farm deliveries should be onion/galtian snark victims also, too.

  37. 37
    Poopyman says:

    @cathyx: No, evidently I need to have friends who will send me pajamagrams.

  38. 38
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    The entire flower industry exists as an example of how markets are not rational, other than I want sex from my wife every once in a while.

  39. 39
    cathyx says:

    @Poopyman: maybe your name turns them off a bit.

  40. 40
    Nellcote says:

    These are tough times. Sending food to people doesn’t seem so crazy. The fruit’s gotta be better than that Hickory Farms crap.

  41. 41
    Quicksand says:

    DougJ, why do you hate America chocolate-dipped flower-shaped pineapple slices?

  42. 42
    Bruce S says:

    Also, in theory, there shouldn’t be a market for pricey tickets to Charlie Sheen’s road show…

    Has anyone asked Stiglitz about that ?

  43. 43
    Josie says:

    @Poopyman: According to the commercials I have seen, it’s you who are supposed to be sending the pajamagram to some sexy young thing.

  44. 44
    Anne Laurie says:

    Edible Arrangements (headquartered in my home town!) produces what anthropologists refer to as “objects of ceremonial exchange“. Those baskets are not ‘gifts’ in the xmas/birthday sense of “stuff the buyer hopes the recipient can use”. They’re meant, and sold, as a signal that the giver appreciates both the recipient and the social arena in which they interact. Overpriced fruit cut into pretty shapes fill a niche in our increasingly niche-driven culture, where flowers & tradtional food baskets might be rejected (because some people are allergic, or ecologically-minded, or too self-consciously egalitarian to share out 6 treat boxes in a 7-person office, or to graciously accept a pointless trinket & donate it to the next community rummage sale.) It’s like the $40 melons hand-grown for the Japanese market — they’re not intended to be useful, they’re just cultural.

  45. 45
    srv says:

    Doug, send us your address and we’ll put you on our fruitcake circle.

  46. 46
    Greg says:

    I’ve known about them and used them for years. But I’m an event planner so it kinda makes sense. They are great for centerpieces because the guests eat them and I don’t have to figure out what to do with 20 bird-of-paradise floral arrangements at 2 o’clock in the morning.

  47. 47
    Cris says:

    The Onion article is pretty hilarious. But the sentiment expressed is one I’ve heard stated quite earnestly, and I think it’s a bit underthought. “Why would people pay so much for [common ingredient]?” It’s because a person applies their labor to that ingredient, and presents it in a way that you either don’t have the skill or the time to do yourself. That’s why we call it “value-added.”

    There’s a lower limit to it, of course. That lower limit is the origami boulder.

  48. 48
    Citizen_X says:

    @Zifnab:

    I thought Beanie Babies dispelled the myth of the rational free market fifteen years ago.

    Fifteen years ago? How about the Tulip Mania, over 370 years ago?

  49. 49
    jl says:

    @Legalize: good point, nothing is more irrational than paying money in order to drink that rotgut known as whiskey, or whisky, or however it is gussied up.

  50. 50
    Perry Como says:

    Some kid was trying to sell this stuff in a bodega the other day. Is it MLM?

  51. 51
    t jasper parnell says:

    @matryoshka: Exactly. I think Stiglitz meant rationally or sanely when he wrote willingly.

  52. 52
    mws says:

    A few years back, my mother bought an Edible Arrangements bouquet for me and my wife. The fruit is top quality, better than we can get at our local grocery store.

    We’ve given a couple of these as gifts. We recently sent one to a baby shower. It was the most popular food item at the shower… by far. There was plenty left over food after the shower, but the Edible Arrangement was completely devoured.

    We find it to be worth the money.

  53. 53
    wasabi gasp says:

    Assuming fifty cents a day, each one of those wedges could feed a starving kid for like over a week! Fucking apples, how do they work?

  54. 54
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @wasabi gasp:

    Assuming fifty cents a day, each one of those wedges could feed a starving kid for like over a week!

    Not if Sally Struthers is hanging around, hoovering ’em up.

  55. 55
    Son of Prog says:

    I worked at an Edible Arrangements several years ago, my boss owned three or four franchises in a twenty-mile radius in Massachusetts and was always upset about another one she had sold off that was doing well. My only complaint is that when they punch out the pineapple daisies, you get the core and lose a bunch of the fruit.

  56. 56
    long ago says:

    1) how much you wanna bet that “mws” at 52 was sent over here by edible arrangement to do damage control? they’ve probably hired a firm to follow all the trackbacks from the onion article and try to combat the buzz.

    2) the onion piece was good, but it was much funnier when they did it about radio shack a few years ago:

    http://www.theonion.com/articl.....in-b,2190/

    “FORT WORTH, TX—Despite having been on the job for nine months, RadioShack CEO Julian Day said Monday that he still has “no idea” how the home electronics store manages to stay open.

    “There must be some sort of business model that enables this company to make money, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is,” Day said. “You wouldn’t think that people still buy enough strobe lights and extension cords to support an entire nationwide chain, but I guess they must, or I wouldn’t have this desk to sit behind all day.”

  57. 57
    burnspbesq says:

    @Joseph Nobles:

    Exactly! Stiglitz fallacy is to see it as 18 apple wedges and a balloon. What Edible Arrangemnts is actually selling is an increased probability of getting laid. And it has been common knowledge for a very long time that American men will spend amounts that appear irrational on that particular promise.

  58. 58
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @burnspbesq: Who the fuck puts out for apple wedges and a balloon, Burnsy? You hanging around the elementary school lunch room?

  59. 59
    someone says:

    I know it costs too much, but I do enjoy receiving a basket of chocolate covered fruit. Certainly more so than the equally overpriced, preconfigured floral arrangements available online.

    I also thank the ineptitude at Edible Arrangements for breaking the ice with the sort of black humor that makes family tragedies more bearable. Suffice to say, someone didn’t get the memo that a festive vase and a card holder featuring plastic confetti and balloons didn’t quite match the “we’re sorry for your loss” vibe.

  60. 60
    burnspbesq says:

    @Bob:

    If you think bottled water is worthless, you must not get out much. Admittedly, in places like SoCal, it’s not a necessity (although the tap water in SoCal tastes horrible). But I have traveled to any number of places where I wouldn’t put what comes out of the tap into my body for any amount of money, and I don’t much care whether brushing my teeth with Evian offends the locals.

  61. 61
    burnspbesq says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    Have you seen their TV ads?

  62. 62
    Lojasmo says:

    Edible arrangements are AMAZING. Would never buy one, of course.

  63. 63
    zach says:

    @Citizen_X: It’s a sign of decreasing quality at the Onion that they didn’t work the tulip panic into the story.

  64. 64
    Roger Moore says:

    Is anybody else getting the ridiculous ad from “The Trumpet”? Their list of stunningly accurate predictions would impress me more if they weren’t claiming to have predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall before construction started.

  65. 65
    Martin says:

    Obviously government agencies and unions are buying all of these. Better cut their budgets another 20% and make those unions illegal.

  66. 66
    russell says:

    beats a pet rock. at least you can eat it.

  67. 67
    FoxinSocks says:

    I was thinking about this on the way home… (no, I don’t know what’s wrong with me). Edible Arrangements works the way art does. People have paid millions of dollars for a piece of paper covered in inexpensive paint, but it’s how it’s done and the end result that gives the item value.

    Not that Edible Arrangements is on the same level as Picasso. I couldn’t even eat a Picasso.

  68. 68
    Barb (formerly Gex) says:

    Isn’t the entire idea of capitalism that you pay more than something is worth? It’s called PROFIT. It is expected. Yes, some profits are obscene. That’s exactly what fiscal conservatives laud rather than denounce.

    @matryoshka: Or that there is little information asymmetry…

  69. 69
    El Cid says:

    I’ve never sent one of those fruit bouquet things, but I’m sure a whole hell of a lot of my friends and relatives would find that more interesting than another fucking bucket of flowers. At least if you didn’t do it more than once or twice. Maybe not at a funeral, though. Don’t want the guests eating the wreath.

  70. 70
    Ruckus says:

    @Legalize:
    When I was in the business (bottles) I understood that the bottle and the shelf space cost more than the liquid inside. And that does not count delivery. This was for water for sure and I understood that there is more cost in the can and delivery than what’s inside of a soda can as well. It could have changed but I doubt it seriously.

  71. 71
    Martin says:

    @russell: You can eat a pet rock. It’s just not very nutritious.

  72. 72
    El Cid says:

    @Barb (formerly Gex): Well, “worth” in the sense of what the market will bear for its pricing. If people will pay it, it’s “worth” it. No matter the relation to materials and labor.

  73. 73
    Roger Moore says:

    @Ruckus:
    The thing that makes any of those bottles really valuable is the label on the outside. That’s the only explanation for why name brand purified drinking water can sell for twice the price of the house brand.

  74. 74
    Ruckus says:

    @Roger Moore:
    This is true but they pay a premium for more shelf space and have a larger profit even though the advertizing budget is more.
    I was once told a story about a famous distillery. They build a new still with twice as much capacity and now needed to sell more booze. But their premium brand was quite expensive and had reached market saturation. So they decided to create a cheap brand by filling plainer bottles with the same product(which cost only a small percent of the sales price)and selling it at 60%. They couldn’t sell this to save their lives. The perceived value wasn’t there, people who drank the expensive stuff tried the cheap stuff in taste tests and said it was terrible.

  75. 75
    Don K says:

    @cathyx:

    Mmmm… more than the cost, sure, but if someone buys a coffee at Starbuck’s vs Dunkin/Tim Horton’s/McDonald’s vs making it at home, then by definition it’s worth it to them.

    I’ve had many occasions in life where I’ve said, “Sure I could afford it, but it’s just not worth it to me.” But the key part of the sentence is “to me”. If it’s worth it to someone else, well, that’s cool.

  76. 76
    befuggled says:

    @long ago: Meh. Put me in the “beats flowers” camp. Astroturf wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ve gotten them once or twice and they weren’t bad. I don’t think I’d ever buy one for someone, though.

  77. 77
    Anne Laurie says:

    @burnspbesq:

    What Edible Arrangemnts is actually selling is an increased probability of getting laid.

    For some portion of its market (vendors wooing office workers, parents thanking teachers or coaches or the other parents who get stuck doing field trips & birthday outings), an EA gift is the anti getting-laid option. “This guaranteed-innuendo-free fruit gift conveys my appreciation and the assurance that under no circumstances would I consider making a pass at you!”

  78. 78
    Parallel 5ths (Jewish Steel) says:

    This was all covered in the Unabooboo episode of Harvey Birdman.

    Cookies on dowel rods. Hah ha!

  79. 79
    MonkeyBoy says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    EA gift is the anti getting-laid option.

    Actually, I think a raw vegetable platter with celery and carrot sticks with no dip is probably the ultimate. Nothing kills getting into somebody’s pants like telling them they need to diet.

    P.S. I checked my local grocery chain and they will make “Fruit Platters” for $5 a pound. Though I have never heard of someone giving one as a gift. I think it would appear cheap and lazy.

  80. 80
    Roger Moore says:

    @MonkeyBoy:
    A fruit platter is not the same thing as fruit on sticks arranged to look like flowers. One is something you buy to put on a buffet, the other is one you get because it’s supposed to look classy.

  81. 81
    Ruckus says:

    @MonkeyBoy:
    Nothing kills getting into somebody’s pants like telling them they need to diet.
    I’m not sure that applies for 1/2 the population. But then we don’t get asked as often.

  82. 82
    water balloon says:

    When my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, she got one of these once every couple of weeks for basically the rest of her life, then the family got a couple after she died. She loved fruit, and we told people they were a better thing to send during her hospital visits, radiation, chemo, than flowers. She always loved getting them.

  83. 83
    Tax Analyst says:

    @water balloon: Nice point. I can see that type of gift being very appropriate in that situation. And even in more day-to-day situations I can think of a lot worse gifts to receive. It would depend on the who the recipient actually was.

  84. 84
    Xenos says:

    I am glad to hear there is an actual business behind the Edible Arrangements franchise. I just cynically assumed it was the Krispy Kreme business model where what they are really selling is franchises to people with some retirement savings who are looking for a second career.

    There is quite a marketing system for failed franchises, and one storefront operation can process a dozen suckers in a decade, each investing five or six figures of fees just for the right to step into a turnkey retail operation with no serious potential for making money. Not so long as the franchise fees keep bleeding them dry, that is.

  85. 85
    Xenos says:

    @Zifnab: Beanie Babies were perhaps the crowning achievement of scams for the 20th century. It was a private company so nobody could ever tell what really was rare or limited editions or anything. I am convinced that most of the big ebay sellers were family insiders getting paid in artificially scarce items and making a killing on the secondary market. And I doubt any of it was taxed in any way.

    And they dragged that phenomenon out by a good decade or so. Madoff had nothing on those guys.

  86. 86
    Gretchen says:

    Edible Arrangements appeals to people like me, who are responsible for sending nice birthday, Christmas, and Mother’s Day gifts to a dear mother-in-law who lives in a condo, doesn’t want more stuff, and has all the clothes, books and jewelry she’ll ever need. So do I just ignore the birthday? She lives to far away to take her out to dinner. I just almost ordered flowers from FTD, sucked in by the ad for $19.99. Then you get to checkout and shipping is another $19.99. EA was invented for people like me.

  87. 87
    chines says:

    There’s at least one more American-Capitalism-WTF Onion story that I know of and giggle over:

    http://www.theonion.com/articl.....e-ma,1343/

    Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe The Shit He Makes For Americans

    “Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,'” Chen said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. “One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?”

  88. 88
    chines says:

    @water balloon:

    I’m so sorry about your mother but so glad she received a gift she could enjoy. I would, however, caution anyone else thinking to send one of these arrangements to a cancer patient to check first that it would be appropriate for the patient’s diet. There are some treatment complications (like a weakened immune system) in which fresh fruits & veggies (among other foods) need to be avoided.

  89. 89

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    pikers compared to the jewelry industry. their ads dominate the second half of the football season…

    “diamonds, make her feel like she has to”

    and my favorite is the commercial where the man gives his, apparently wife, jewelry, much to her delight, under the christmas tree, but the daughters aren’t asleep, they are on the stairs, when they see mom’s reaction, they give the slogan, “he went to jared”. they are selling the jewelry, and the gossip, and the faux wisdom of tween euphemism, because he gave her jewelry, she kinda hadda,so that makes him a stud, who gives jewelry!.

  90. 90
    water balloon says:

    @chines: That might be true. By the time she was diagnosed and began treatment though, it was really too late to worry about diet. She had been going to a chiropractor for many months for her back pain, when all along it was the cancer at the top of her lung eating into her spine causing the pain. Apparently chiropractors don’t do x-rays before fiddling with people’s spines. That’s just crazy.

  91. 91
    chines says:

    @water balloon:

    That is crazy! I wonder how many other cancer cases have gone undiagnosed by chiropractors. I would bet a significant amount.

  92. 92
    Joel says:

    Edible Arrangements is a private company founded by Tariq Farid (who remains as president). He’s also the director of American Halal, Inc. I’m surprised the wignuts haven’t lost their shit over this, yet.

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