Once A Hard Sell, Wal-Mart's Patti LaBelle Pies Fly Off Shelves : The Salt The 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.

Once A Hard Sell, Wal-Mart's Patti LaBelle Pies Fly Off Shelves

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/456395409/456395410" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Big names sell music. A great review helps, and as it turns out, so does pie. That's what Wal-Mart discovered when they offered a sweet potato pie inspired by a beloved musician. NPR's Andrew Limbong explains.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: It's Wal-Wart's sweet potato pie based on a recipe by the singer and cookbook author Patti LaBelle. It's $3.48, and it has her face on the box. You'll have a hard time finding it in stores, though. It's sold out in a lot of places, and it's going for up to $40 on eBay. And that's all because of this guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES WRIGHT: I went and bought the Patti LaBelle pie.

LIMBONG: A singer named James Wright posted this video to Facebook last week. He tastes the pie and breaks into song like he's in a Patti Labelle musical.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WRIGHT: Sweet potato, Patti LaBelle - this is the Patti edition, Honey. This is the (singing) on my own - why did it end this way?

LIMBONG: The video's racked up over 8.5 million views. Kerry Robinson is the VP for bakery and deli at Wal-Mart. She says after the video dropped, they were selling a pie every second, nearly matching the bestseller, pumpkin pie. This caused some supply issues.

KERRY ROBINSON: We are working very hard with our supplier to try and produce more product, but we're in the process of securing another 2 million pounds of sweet potatoes.

LIMBONG: Banking on those 2 million pounds coming through by Saturday is Syreeta Gates. She lives in New York City, and she's hoping to buy a couple of the pies this weekend.

SYREETA GATES: I've been a fan of Patti LaBelle for, like, my entire life. Like, I remember my mother playing her in the 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 buy some pies.

LIMBONG: To Syreeta, it's not really about the taste.

GATES: 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.

LIMBONG: She sees the phenomenon as a celebration of black culture.

GATES: People congregate around food, but this is kind of, like, the first time in a real way that the community - i.e., you know, black people or people of color - have communed around food via the internet, literally breaking bread.

LIMBONG: To participate in that, Syreeta Gates says, is a treat. It's like Thanksgiving came early. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATTI LABELLE SONG, "WHEN YOU'VE BEEN BLESSED - FEELS LIKE HEAVEN")

PATTI LABELLE: (Singing) When you've been blessed, feels like heaven.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.