Get your pearls ready for a-clutchin', kids, because we’re in the thick of the season for hideously expensive Valentine’s Day gifts. Ever buy any designer fruit?
Last week, TIME Hong Kong Correspondent Nash Jenkins reported on the emergence of the Valentine’s Day-themed Kotoka Strawberry Gift Box, found in CitySuper, a Hong Kong-based grocery store chain known for its steep prices. This little strawberry arrives in its own cubic cardboard container. It rests in a bed of beige, haylike straw and a knitted, styrofoam cradle the color of flamingo feathers. The cost? HK$168, roughly $21.60 in USD.
The strawberry hails from Nara, Japan, a stone’s throw away from Osaka. Its manufacturer, Kotoka, boasts that its strawberry is singular in its sugar content and appearance. The product's very existence in CitySuper invoked the fury of Hong Kong Moms, an active Facebook group who begged journalists to report on the story. A number of reporters extrapolated from this incident some greater truths about Hong Kong’s irresponsibly large problem with environmental wastefulness, along with its glaring lack of socioeconomic parity. CitySuper is a serial offender when it comes to priciness: Some of its peaches go for HK$78 a piece, its grape bundles for HK$888.
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Both Kotoka and City Super claimed that the price was, in part, due to the need for cost-covering, given the energy spent to harvest and ship this fruit. Still, they acknowledged that the primary reason for the product's hefty asking price was the fact that it's a Valentine's Day gift. This strawberry is unparalleled, in Kotoka's eyes: Kotoka's promotional video asks us to consider the firmness of the strawberry's texture, the juiciness of its flesh, its flavor profile that buoys between sweetness and tartness unlike any other quotidian supermarket strawberry. “It is shining like a jewel on a scrumptious-looking cake,” the video opens. The ad describes the fruit in terms of an ambrosia, replete with frames that depict a porcelain-looking woman biting into the berry from different angles, verging on ecstasy.
Though I’m willing to entertain counterarguments, isn’t this a textbook case of wasteful packaging? Some fruits, like ripe peaches, are so soft that they may call for packaging that coddles them, but this seems to be a step too far. There are some foods, for example, that require peeling that can be so cumbersome that I get the necessity of packaging others may dismiss offhand as wasteful.
I’ve watched this video at least five times since 9 AM, and, well, I can’t quite make peace with this product’s existence. Its taste doesn't even seem to be that special; TIME’s correspondent describes it, simply, as “good.”
Hm. This confirms my thesis that everyone should remain single, forever.
What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a strawberry? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.