“Not Your Grandmother’s Fruit Basket” and the Question of Relevance

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Lately we’ve been thinking a lot about our relevance as a gift company. As time passes there’s inevitable change in how we view objects: The definition of beauty evolves. Our need for things changes based on necessity and functionality. Social conventions, style and taste change. The issue of relevance for any company determines success or failure.

About beauty — beauty was the driving force behind the creation of Manhattan Fruitier. We set out to make fruit baskets based on classical imagery of fruit. Not only did we find these classical references beautiful, but they are deeply engrained in our human culture. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of American landscape photographer Robert Adams who stated, “Beauty is a confirmation of meaning in life.”

Here is  a classical reference:

Canestra_di_frutta_(Caravaggio)Canestra Di Frutta (Basket of Fruit) by Caravaggio, circa

We design our fruit baskets to accentuate the fresh fruit. We accent our gifts with green leaves and flowers. We eschew anything that detracts from the natural beauty of the fruit and stay very close to classical forms that are universally acknowledged as beautiful. I think we are relevant in the beauty sphere.

About functionality – A classic example of irrelevance due to change in human need is the buggy whip.  A once thriving industry based on the prevalence of horse drawn carriages was entirely displaced as the motorized car literally drove the horse carriage off the road. You didn’t want to be in that industry, no matter how exceptional your buggy whip was. By the way, there’s a great antique center in a sprawling former buggy whip factory in Norfolk, CT. It’s called The Buggy Whip Factory, no less.

The function our gifts serve is to communicate a gifting sentiment. As long as people continue to send gifts, our gift baskets and other gifts are not likely to become functionally obsolete. It would be a dark, dark world if people stopped gifting, and I’m not sure any of us would want to live in it.

Manhattan-Fruitier-Food-photography-Leah-Sidwell3Courtesy of Sidwell Photography.

About style and taste — Consider the change in men’s fashion after President Kennedy’s inauguration. Kennedy attended the inauguration in mourning pants, a cut away coat and a top hat. When he stood up to speak he took off his hat. That was the beginning of the end of hats for men. As the fashion changed so did the relevance of that industry. During the 1960s there were at least 300 hat and cap manufacturers in the Greenwich Village area of downtown NYC alone. Today, I’d guess there aren’t 30 in the entire city, and it’s not because production moved overseas. No matter how well run the hat company, or how exceptional the product, the ground had irrevocably shifted against that industry. On a positive note for the hat industry, hats are coming back. Just take a look at the Goorin Brothers hat company.

In terms of style and fashion, our challenge is to show people that our product is not what we jokingly refer to as “your grandmother’s fruit basket.” Our baskets are a very big departure from the gifts that give the fruit basket a bad name. We don’t use cellophane or tape or Mylar balloons. We have always included exotic fruit, heirloom varieties and organic fruits. It’s our goal to create lovely, diverse and tasteful gift baskets.

Fruit-Basket-LexingtonLexington Basket

Relevancy in this context means that people will choose our gifts over others because they communicate their message. Because there is a strong emotional component to gifting, particularly personal gifting, we are confident that the beauty and tastefulness of our gifts will always be fashionable. In the business realm, sending a bountiful and delicious gift communicates abundant thanks and appreciation.

We also believe that our relevance is tied to staying current with food trends, which means our gifts should reflect what is going on in the food world today. This is why we actively source food from artisanal makers across the country. These makers are a combination of old-timers who have been making exceptional food using traditional methods for decades (among them Shelburne Farms, recently featured as a Maker of the Month) and newcomers who are part of the food revolution that we are now experiencing: Quinn Popcorn (another Maker of the Month), Big Picture Farm goat caramels, Brooklyn Brine pickles, La Fundidora Salsa and Liber & Co cocktail crafters to name a few.

We are confident that based on the three pillars of relevancy – beauty, function and fashion – Manhattan Fruitier is relevant today. And we will continue to push ourselves to stay relevant, particularly in staying current with food trends that are extremely exciting for all of us.

Finally, it’s our job to make gifts that capture peoples’ taste and imagination.

I’d welcome your thoughts.

Jehv

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I founded Manhattan Fruitier in 1987. We will use our blog to talk more personally to our customers, recipients of gifts, and anyone who happens upon Manhattan Fruitier. We understand the special obligation we have as a gift service. After all, gifts reflect directly upon the sender and have the power to surprise someone and make them happy. Google+
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Comments

  1. I love your connection of beauty from classical art. We get so far away from our inspiration in this life, it is grounding to see the painting and then one of your baskets. It all makes sense in this world of very powerful and influential trends.

  2. All the points made here are good ones, with the exception of the headline “Not Your Grandmother’s Fruit basket” As far as messaging goes, this can be split in two ways.

    1) It could be that your primary customer grouping really are people my grandparents age or slightly younger but you are worried about a future customer base once that group dies out so by putting it under this masthead you feel it will do that adequately. If this is the case, just aviod the Grandmother comparison all together and let people come to their own conclusions. Saying “grandmother” really directs the reader to make subconscious comparisons to that water mark. “Does this look like something my Grandmother would buy?”

    or

    2) You really are looking for a younger customer base now so the masthead is appropriate but everything beneath it misses the mark slightly.

    When I say younger I mean professionals in their mid 30’s-50’s. None of these people remember directly the fashion impact of Camelot. They may have learned about it, but this is not a direct and deep rooted emotional connection to a moment in history. They are more apt to feel nostalgia regarding Sarah Jessica Parker’s impact on fashion from Sex in the City than Jackie O. (Not saying you use that example specifically but it needs to be something within the cognitive memory of your target customer demo).

    Still life is an ongoing and evolving art form that has expanded well beyond the Dutch Impressionists. Every art student studies still life early on to learn how to capture structure, lighting, and technique. From a content perspective it is a very appropriate subject matter to capture the essence of a fruit basket company. However, over time generational taste in art styles evolve. At the moment Dutch Impressionism screams Grandmother, to the point where when I look at it I can see the dust on the plastic over my grandmother’s couch. Experiment in expanding that still life theme which is so closely tied to your company but with other styles, from Picasso to Rauschenberg. These are still very well respected artists which by their own nature give off a sense of culture and class but also breathe a little life and youth into the aesthetic you are going for.

    • Josh,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. What you picked up on, if I didn’t expressly state it, is that we have seen a generational shift in gifting behavior. Namely, 30 to 50-year-olds are ordering fewer gifts in our product category, and possibly fewer gifts overall. (I don’t count sending an e-card for a cup of coffee as a gift.) And you’re right that I was wrong to refer to the uninspired fruit baskets of today or any day as “your grandmother’s fruit basket.” A lot of grandmothers have great aesthetic taste and are generous gift givers. I think a better term is “run of the mill.” I take your overall message to be to update our quality and aesthetic references, and I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. The trick is to be consistent with that sentiment and messaging in everything you do from internal memos to vendor conversations, from the website to the blog.

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