By Beth N. Gray
SPRING HILL - On a recent Tuesday, immersed in fancy fruits, her apron smudged in chocolate, Christy Morrow was too busy to chat.
She's a produce handler-cum-artist-cum-florist at Edible Arrangements, which brought its celebratory comestibles to Hernando County in June. In corporate parlance, Morrow is a fruit specialist.
The company's decoratively arrayed fresh fruits are artsy, clever and who'd-have-imagined? Add to that, healthy and refreshing, said owner Victoria Wilson.
Edible Arrangement's twist on celebrating and gifting is for people "who want something different, rather than flowers that you look at, then (they) die," said Wilson, franchisee of the shop north of Timber Pines.
Wilson, 30, who's owned an Edible Arrangements outlet for a year in the city of Hernando in Citrus County, said most of her customers came from Hernando County, prompting her to open a shop here.
Her corporation, based in Atlanta, encourages successful operators to snap up more than one store in their corner of the country, saying small business owners on-site do better than far-off managers, according to a report by Forbes. Such franchise owners also can deliver regional tastes. The local shop is featuring oranges and pineapples for fall.
Alongside tabletop displays and boxed fancy fruits, Wilson said, "we're trying to get more walk-in traffic with new (individual) items." Such temptations, costing $5 each, include fruit smoothies, parfaits, salads, dipped "cones," and the latest, called a "froyo." It's fresh fruit whipped into frozen yogurt, yielding a tangy milkshake-mimic, spoon-or-straw treat.
Chocolate- or caramel-dipped fruit also brings customers through the door in Spring Hill, said manager Robin Paquette. Salted, caramel-dipped apples are the current favorite, she said. And she swoons over the chocolate-dipped banana encrusted with hazelnut crunch.
Not readily forgotten are the colossal Albion strawberries, used system-wide for their sweetness and longevity. They're dipped in semi-sweet or white chocolate, drizzled with the opposing chocolate, sprinkled with chocolate microdots, ground almonds, coconut flakes or hazelnut crunch. Dipped berries are $2.99 each with a bit more for sprinkles.
Centerpiece arrangements, gift baskets and boxed edibles are available in various sizes. Wilson said most customers make choices from photos on the Edible Arrangements website. They start at $19, but generally are in the $49 to $69 range.
Corporate event or wedding reception, wow-worthy arrangements top out at $699, comprised of hundreds of pieces of slickly-sliced fruits deployed in a 3-foot long container.
Those are built at the event site, but otherwise, Paquette and Morrow reproduce corporate designs at the Spring Hill store's kitchen, working out of two walk-in refrigerators stocked by a Tampa fruit vendor.
"We prepare our fruit the morning of, so everything's fresh," Morrow said. "Our most popular arrangement right now is the salted caramel harvest bouquet of apples, strawberries, grapes and oranges."
Wilson, the on-site partner in the joint business endeavor with her mother, Cindy Williams, said the store's summer opening was deliberately set for "slower times" so they could sort out problems before the autumn and winter holidays and hostess needs.
"So far", said Paquette, "we haven't had any kinks." The former business executive, 54, came out of a boring retirement to work for her niece, Wilson.
"People keep coming in who didn't know we were here," Paquette said. "Once we have our grand opening, a lot of people will know."
Meanwhile, the shop is growing market share through word of mouth, she said. Wilson has undertaken direct mail advertising to area businesses and is promoting local specials and discounts on its website.
With busy-season holidays looming, Wilson urged customers to remember the lessor occasions for fruitful gifting. National Boss' Day, she reminded, is Oct. 16.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]