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

Nov 17, 2015
Originally published on November 23, 2015 2:58 pm

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.