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Compare and Contrast: Fruitcake Frenzy

There are so many direct sellers of the festive treat everyone loves to hate. How do their pitches compare?

For all that people make fun of fruitcakes, someone must buy and eat them: A Google search for the word turned up an impressive 1.83 million results.


Among those results were a plethora of fruitcake purveyors. Most of the merchants whose sites I visited seem to feel that they didn’t need to say much about their cakes to sell them.


Case in point: Bettys. A former colleague had raved about this Yorkshire institution, and I guess the company feels its reputation says more than any sales copy could. Here is the entire product description for its Soft Iced Star Christmas Cake in a Bettys Cake Tin (£38.00):


Bettys screen grab

image: Bettys screen grab.


“This soft iced Christmas cake, with marzipan layer, features an intricate star design in gold, green and burgundy, delicately finished with hand-piped white Royal icing presented in a Bettys Cake Tin.”


On the plus side, the copy isn’t weighed down with empty adjectives like “delicious.” But if you weren’t already aware of Bettys’ reputation—if you’d simply stumbled across the website during a search—the description wouldn’t tell you why you should buy this (rather costly) fruitcake as opposed to any other.


The copy for Harrods’ Christmas Cake Infused with Courvoisier VSOP Cognac is somewhat more detailed, informing us that the cake has been “exclusively infused” with Courvoisier “to bring out the scrumptious flavours of the fruits and spices within.” That information certainly helps justify the £24.95 price.


Harrods screen grab

image: Harrods screen grab.


Info under the “Details” tab includes that a red ribbon is wrapped around the cake base, which isn’t apparent from the two product photos, one showing the cake in its box and one showing it removed (but ribbonless). And below the photos are two suggested items, one an alternative (a plum pudding in a ceramic bowl) and the other a perfect add-on (Brandy Butter with Courvoisier VSOP Cognac).


With its product page for the Assumption Abbey Fruitcake, Williams-Sonoma shows why it’s often considered the one to beat among culinary marketers. Of course, it helps that this particular cake has a rich backstory:


Williams-Sonoma screen grab

image: Williams-Sonoma screen grab.


“Rich and fragrant, this fruitcake is baked by Trappist monks at Assumption Abbey, nestled in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks. Based on a recipe developed by French chef Jean-Pierre Augé, who was once employed by the duke and duchess of Windsor, this dark, spicy cake has a deep, rich flavor and moist crumb. Laced with an ounce of rum, its [sic] proof of just how delicious a fruitcake can be!”


I love how that last sentence addresses all the fruitcake skeptics—though I’d have appreciated it even more if it had said “’s proof of...” (Yes, I’m that annoying person who points out typos in menus.)


Below that product description are bullet points noting, among other things, that because they’re baked in small batches, “each cake receives individual attention from start to finish.” Can’t you just picture monks peering in through the oven-door window watching their cakes rise? I would have liked one of the two photos, however, to have shown the reusable tin that the cake comes in, especially given its rather high price of $44.95.


Williams-Sonoma features customer reviews on it site; 15 of the 17 reviewers said they’d recommend the cake to a friend. The Swiss Colony displays customer reviews as well, and 2,190 shoppers have reviewed its Christmas Fruit Cake so far, for an overall rating of 4 stars out of 5.


I have to say that judging solely by the photos, this was the least appetising cake to my (admittedly fussy) taste:


Swiss Colony screen grab

image: Swiss Colony screen grab.


That’s a shame, because the product page offers eight photos, showing the cake in its tin, plated, and being made, as well as shots of some of the ingredients, which are helpfully labeled—I say “helpfully” because some of the jellylike blobs in the “Sweet Pineapple Chunks” photo are neon green.


The copy, to my mind, is worth 1,000 pictures of wobbly green chunks. “The finest Christmas Fruit Cake in America is a bold claim. But after sampling the most popular fruit cakes in the land and testing many recipes, our Master Pastry Chefs arrived at the perfect balance of fruit, nuts and buttery rich batter,” it begins, before letting us know that it’s a “whopping 76% fruit and nuts!” Tabs below include “Instructions” (“To avoid crumbling, gently press down in one cut. Do not use a sawing motion. Wipe blade after each cut with a damp cloth.”) and “Double Guarantee” (if this isn’t the best fruitcake you’ve ever tasted, you can return it in exchange for an item worth twice its price).


Speaking of price, four sizes are available, from 1.25 pounds for $24.95 to 5 pounds for $59.95. I’d have appreciated an indication of roughly how many people each cake would serve; surely I’m not the only person who cannot envision just how large a 5-pound cake is?


Collin Street Bakery does tell you approximately how many slices you can expect to get from its three sizes of DeLuxe Fruitcake ($28.45-$65.50), under the “Fruitcake FAQs” tab. It also explains how to “doctor” the cake with alcohol, and it answers the question “How long does the DeLuxe last?” with “Oh, about 10 minutes after its [sic] unwrapped?” before stating “Your cake will keep well at room temperature for 60-90 days. (I always put mine in the refrigerator).” The first-person interjection and the jokey response bring a friendly familiarity to the brand. (Though what is it with food copywriters and confusion between “its” and “it’s”?)


Collin Street screen grab

image: Collin Street screen grab.


The product copy tells us that the cake uses the original recipe from 1896 and is “the perfect balance of native pecans (27%) shelled right here in Corsicana, Texas”; handpicked pineapple and papaya from the company’s own Costa Rica farms; “ripe, red cherries from Oregon and Washington State”; “pure clover honey, plump golden raisins.” Unfortunately the bullet points are misused here, making what was originally a sentence a disjointed series—though it’s nothing the correct punctuation couldn’t easily fix. I did sigh, however, upon reading that “Each fruitcake arrives in it’s [sic] own keepsake tin!”


The photos (almost) make up for the apostrophe misuse: a large, lovely pic of the cake in its unsliced glory and a smaller one showing the gift tin, available for an additional $3.95. A picture of a cut slice showing the interior of the cake would have been nice, however—especially as Collin Street offers the option of buying the cake presliced for an extra $4.00. Another option available, like the others, via a drop-down button is the addition of coffee at a discount, which is an easy way for the company to increase its average order value.


Each fruitcake product page has something worthy of emulation. Bring together the simplicity of Bettys’ prose, the exclusivity of Harrods’ offering, the richness of Williams-Sonoma’s copy, Swiss Colony’s attention to detail, and the friendly vibe and helpful add-ons of Collin Street Bakery, and you just might have the perfect product page. I still wouldn’t be tempted to buy, however: I simply can’t stand fruitcake.


author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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