How bouquets of flower-shaped pineapple slices and chocolate-dipped strawberries became the ultimate kitschy food gift
There are some things you can’t fully untangle, like why a happily married odd couple makes sense together, or how certain mismatched flavors create harmony instead of cacophony. Or, better yet, how the fruit bouquet business Edible Arrangements enjoys an enduring success.
The bouquets — rounded melon balls and pineapple pieces cut into daisy shapes, affixed to tall sticks, chocolate-dipped strawberries and grape kebabs sprouting buoyantly from festive vases and vessels — are the provenance of corporate meetings and birthday gifts from (or to) doting boomer relatives; part of Edible Arrangements’ ubiquity is its dogged insistence that fruit bouquets are truly an item for everybody. The brand tops search results whether you’re hunting for “adult son gift,” “masculine coworker thank-you,” or “cousin birthday.” Despite the copycat operations out there, these perishable garlands are big business: Edible Arrangements is one of the food businesses that has not only survived the pandemic, but thrived, enjoying a 45 percent increase in its sales, which totaled $500 million from 1,000 franchised stores in 2020.
In June 2022, Cheikh Mboup, the company’s president and COO from 2020 to 2022, credited the savvy (or merely lucky) business decisions the company has made over the past few years, which made it uniquely pandemic-proof: branching out from traditional fruit bouquets to smaller, less expensive items like cookie boxes, party platters, and balloon bundles; and creating its own fleet of delivery drivers. When the pandemic hit, Edible offered free delivery through its own network, circumventing the shipping issues that other companies faced. It also pivoted to more straitlaced produce delivery to fill the gap for customers who were avoiding in-person shopping at the grocery store; this allowed it to maintain operations because it was now deemed “essential.”
But from Harry & David to Sugarwish, Goldbelly to the Bean Club, there are certainly more affordable and, dare I say, cooler deliverable food gifts out there. What was undoubtedly unique and novel in 1999, when the company was founded, is now a skosh kitsch: At times it can feel like the ardor surrounding Edible is actually just an embracing of irony. Mboup, too, admitted that he could not point to a heart-line reason for the brand’s persisting appeal. “There are times in life we may not know the answer, you and I both,” he mused.
Edible Arrangements started in the back of a flower shop. When founder Tariq Farid was 17 years old, he borrowed $5,000 from family and friends to buy a traditional flower shop in East Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, he was operating four successful stores, and as he noticed trends, the wheels in his head began spinning: People were buying more fresh fruit, gifts, and flowers. Why not mash all those things together and create floral-style arrangements — with fruit? The idea was novel, and it took off. The first Edible Arrangements franchise opened just two years later, in Waltham, Massachusetts, and the franchise model has defined the Edible brand through most of its existence.
When the brand trademarked the name Edible in 2013, dropping “Arrangements” from much of its signage and branding materials, it signaled the company’s shifting focus. In recent years, Edible’s revealed ambitions beyond its signature item, transitioning from solely offering fruit bouquet delivery to what it calls “an experiences company.” It added “Edible To Go” smoothies and freshly baked cookies in 2015. Customers who head to the Edible website can now add items from partners, like fresh flowers, cheesecakes and bundt cakes, live plants, and fresh juices and snacks. It recently even created a spin-off brand, “Incredible Edibles,” to incorporate selling CBD and eventually marijuana-based products into their portfolio, though only one location in Hickory, North Carolina, carries this particular foray for now.
While these add-ons and experiments diversified the overall brand, they’ve come at the expense of franchise owners. A group of them sued the company in 2020, arguing that keeping up with all those business pivots, including those fueled by the pandemic, required them to shell out thousands of dollars to outfit their stores with complicated equipment for frozen yogurt treats and brand-new ovens for the cookies. When the frozen yogurt was discontinued, they allege, franchisees were unable to sell the machinery back to the manufacturer. Franchise owners have also complained about recent fee increases (the parent company owns EA Connect, the online platform used for sales, which takes a 10-percent cut of every online order) and mandatory marketing costs that increase their fees to Edible Arrangements to as much as 20 percent, far above the franchise average of 2 to 5 percent.
The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2020 due to a contract clause mandating that the franchise owners work out their issues in arbitration. Diana King, president of the Edible Arrangements Group Advancement Association (EAGAA), which filed the lawsuit, says that the situation was ultimately a net positive, because it improved communication between the parent company and individual owners. In October 2021, she, along with 10 other franchise owners, got on a conference call with Mboup and made their list of demands. (Mboup, for his part, said it’s unfortunate that there were disagreements, but “the best route is a two-way dialogue.”) One major sticking point, the expensive frozen yogurt machines that were nixed, was handled through an agreement that Edible would give future experimental products a trial run through affiliate programs on the national website. Then, if a new product proved to be successful, franchisees would be required to invest in the machinery needed to produce it in-store.
According to an Edible representative, arrangement sales consistently make up around 50 percent of total revenue. Despite attempts to innovate, people will always associate the brand with the fruit bouquet, the safest gift option. But why does widespread appeal for gussied up produce platters endure?
Christina Cauterucci, who recently reported on the internal drama and issues behind the company’s surface success for Slate, posited on the Waves podcast that Edible Arrangements succeeds because they’re acceptable gifts for men. “An Edible Arrangement is just so casual. All genders eat fruit. And the company has never said this, but I suspect that this is why,” she said.
CCD Innovation trend specialist Melina Romero told me the enduring appeal of Edible Arrangements could be fueled by “permissible indulgence” — the idea being that people are replacing candy and full-fledged desserts with fruit — and nostalgia for food on sticks. She also notes it may have something to do with whimsy, comparing the fruit bouquets with Dominique Ansel’s Cronut.
I tend to agree: While reporting this piece, a friend who owns an artisanal flower business and who has an unabashed love for these arrangements sent me a surprise fruit bouquet of my own (I’d never received one before). I answered the door to receive a crinkly plastic-wrapped platter of chocolate-dipped strawberries, smattering of grapes, and one pineapple piece cut in the shape of a butterfly. Alternating between guffaws and aws, I was genuinely delighted and touched and struck by something ineffably goofy about it. The line between irony and earnest love is blurry, and I’m not sure where the mercury peaks on that particular thermometer.
And it raises the deeper question of why we cling to our kitsch, or why the irony plus nostalgia about certain things are worth the price tag (the most wee traditional offering starts at $24.99, and the priciest is a gargantuan centerpiece just shy of $1,500). To me, Edible Arrangements shares something in common with the mawkish, brightly decorated Carvel ice cream cakes. A large part of the appeal lies in the amateurish designs and comfortingly simple, saccharine taste of highly processed soft serve ice cream. Like framing a caricature captured on the boardwalk or ordering a giant, sickly sweet tropical drink in Vegas, I’m protective of the treacly, fun-loving, maximalist nature of Edible Arrangements, of all these things. As Bettina Makalintal wrote of seafood kitsch, maybe it’s as simple as the fact that it’s “fun and silly, and we need more fun and silly.”
Abby Carney is a writer and journalist in New York. Marylu E. Herrera is a Chicago-based collage artist.