Once A Hard Sell, Wal-Mart's Patti LaBelle Pies Fly Off Shelves : The SaltThe sweet potato pie, sold in boxes bearing LaBelle's face, was a ho-hum seller until a video singing its praises went viral last week. Why pie fever? Partly, it's about celebrating black culture.
Earlier this year, singer and cookbook author Patti LaBelle teamed up with Wal-Mart to make a sweet potato pie.
It costs $3.48, it's got her face on the box, and sales were just OK when it came out in September.
But today, it's a scarcity. The pies have sold out in many Wal-Mart stores and are going for up to $40 on eBay. (We found this Craigslist listing selling slices for $10 each in Washington, D.C.)
And that's all because of this guy. (Warning: The video includes some profanity.)
A singer named James Wright posted this video to Facebook last week. In it, he unboxes and eats the Patti LaBelle pie while breaking into song like he's in a Patti LaBelle musical (with the occasional profanity thrown in). The video has since racked up over 8.5 million views, and Wal-Mart hasn't been able to keep up with the ensuing demand for pie.
According to Kerry Robinson, vice president for bakery and deli at Wal-Mart, they were selling a pie per second last weekend, after the video dropped.
That number is close to the reigning king of holiday pies, pumpkin. It's also caused some supply issues for LaBelle's pies.
"We are working very hard with our supplier to try and produce more product," says Robinson. "We're in the process of securing another 2 million pounds of sweet potatoes."
Syreeta Gates is banking on those 2 million pounds coming through by Saturday. She lives in New York City, and she's hoping to buy a couple pies this weekend.
"I've been a fan of Patti LaBelle for my entire life," Gates says. "I remember my mother playing her at home, and I have all the cookbooks. But after I saw the video, I said, 'You know what? I think I'm going to go out and buy some pies.' "
She's got the cookbooks, and she can make the pie herself. But she's still going out to buy a bunch for her friends. Because she says it's not about the taste: It's about taking part in a wider celebration of black culture.
"I'm sure a lot of our grandmas can make sweet potato pies that are equivalent, if not possibly better, than Patti LaBelle's pie," Gates says. "People congregate around food. But this is the first time in a real way that the community — black people, or people of color — have communed around food via the Internet." They're "breaking bread" together, she says.
And to participate in that, Gates says, is a treat. It's like Thanksgiving came early.