retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Fortune has a fascinating story about how a combination of singer Patti LaBelle, sweet potatoes, Walmart, and a savvy bakery buyer named Kinna Thomas added up to sales magic.

The story tells the story of Thomas, who, when she became Walmart's senior buyer for cakes and pies, decided she wanted to raise the company's game and started with her family's sweet potato pie recipe ... and then, looking for some outside expertise, discovered online that LaBelle has a lot of street cred among sweet potato pie aficionados. She reached out to LaBelle, and within 24 hours was in negotiations to exclusively make and sell a pie bearing her name.

The story notes that "The LaBelle touch worked, notably and intensely with one singer James Wright Chanel. While the resulting pie sold well when it hit shelves in the spring, sales went into the stratosphere last week, selling one pie per second for 72 hours straight at one point, after Chanel posted an ecstatic video of himself serenading LaBelle and her namesake Sweet Potato Pie, a pre-packaged dessert only on sale at Walmart. The video became a YouTube sensation and has been watched nearly 2.5 million times so far.

"Walmart has gone through hundreds of thousands of sweet potato pies and the shortage has led to some entrepreneurial people to sell them on eBay for as much as $60. They cost $3.48 in the stores."
KC's View:
This is a pretty cool story, on several levels. First, it is noteworthy that Walmart seems to be giving its buyers the ability to be entrepreneurial ... and all kudos to Thomas for taking advantage of the opportunity. Second, it seems to be part of a broader effort by Walmart to energize its bakery operations. Clearly, it is working. And third, it speaks to the power of social media's ability to drive sales and create events.