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Photo courtesy of Walmart
Not long ago, no one had heard of golden-tongued YouTuber James Wright “Chanel,” who burst onto the scene last week with a musical review of Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie. To say he went viral is an understatement — to date, the video has been seen more than 1 million times. And ever since that video spread like wildfire, Walmart — which developed the pie with LaBelle and sells it exclusively — has been struggling to keep up with demand. Everyone wants a slice of Ms. LaBelle’s silky, autumnal pie.
A Walmart in Valley Stream, N.Y., which still shows online that they have the pies in stock, is actually sold out. “Since Saturday,” a salesperson said. “The warehouse is also sold out. You can thank Mr. James for that."
Halfway across the country, a Walmart store clerk in Kalamazoo, Mich., told Yahoo Food that the pies are selling so fast that she doesn’t have time to put dates and prices on them; she just hands them to waiting customers. According to the clerk, the store sold 120 cases of the sweet potato pie on Sunday — a sharp uptick since Wright posted his video. Apparently the pies were "not selling” before the clip went viral. “Check back Wednesday or Thursday,” the clerk suggested, adding with a note of caution, “call before you come.”
Walmart representative John Forrest Ales confirmed to Yahoo Food that the sweet potato pies are selling like hot cakes (er, pies) at locations across the country. “For 72 hours, we were selling one per second,” he told us. Ales wouldn’t go into specifics about sales figures, but at $3.48 a pie, that works out to just under $1 million in sales over the weekend. The pie’s product page is currently the most-visited food site on Walmart.com, Ales said. (For a bit of context, Walmart might sell two pumpkin pies every second in the month of November. But still, $1 million in sweet potato pie sales is a lot of pie.)
Walmart was caught off-guard by the frenzy, Ales said.
“Friday morning, the team was working with the [sweet potato pie] supplier to see how we can keep up with the demand,” Ales said. “The supplier… was having a hard time finding [enough] sweet potatoes. So we walked down the hall to the produce department [and said,] ‘We need about 2 million pounds of California sweet potatoes!’ So that’s what we’ve been working through.”
Ales added that Walmart is working hard to replenish stocks at sold-out locations. “We’re really sorry about that,” he said. “We’re looking at where stores are out and how we can quickly move pies to that area.”
LaBelle is staring in a special series on Cooking Channel this December. (Courtesy of Patti LaBelle.)
Meanwhile, Patti LaBelle has already chatted personally with Wright. The YouTuber recounted the telephone call to BET over the weekend: “She kept thanking me and she kept telling me how much she loved me. She kept telling me to be me,” Wright said. “She was like ‘Boy, you can sang!’“
Walmart followed suit, welcoming Wright to one of their stores over the weekend. Ales wouldn’t comment on whether or not the chain might consider using the viral video star in a commercial, saying only, “We definitely are thanking him … We love customers’ feedback. And such entertaining feedback is always fun.”
If you’re still having trouble finding one of Patti Labelle’s pies, here’s a solution: Make your own. The Washington Post’s Joe Yonan has the recipe, and he promises that it’s “pretty great, actually.”
More Thanksgiving inspiration from Yahoo Food: