July 27, 2009 | last updated May 26, 2012 8:06 am

Carving A Niche | Edible Arrangements' Fruit-Sculpture Business Still Growing

Tariq Farid, CEO and founder of Edible Arrangements sits next to the hand-sculpted, fresh fruit creations that has helped grow his company. Farid recently signed a deal that will expand his 900-store franchise into Italy and Hong Kong.

When Tariq Farid began franchising his Wallingford-based fresh fruit sculpting company Edible Arrangements in 2001, his goal was to open about 35 stores in five years.

To say the 40-year-old life long entrepreneur miscalculated the growing power of his company would be an understatement.

Since it's inception in 1999, Edible Arrangements, which has pioneered hand-sculpted, fresh fruit arrangements, has been on an exponential growth pattern, and the recession hasn't stopped it. What started out as a single store in East Haven has turned into a mega-chain behemoth that has over 900 locations worldwide including outlets in Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier this month, the company continued its aggressive growth strategy by signing two franchisee agreements in Italy and Hong Kong, extending the company's reach into two new continents.

"This means continued growth for the brand," Farid said in a recent interview. "This gives us access to one of the biggest emerging markets in the world and a European country where gift giving is a major part of the culture. It's a wonderful opportunity for us."

Farid said the recent signings are part of a plan that includes expanding in existing markets and countries while continuing domestic growth in the United States.

Over the past few years, the company has opened 20 to 25 new stores a month. While the recession has slowed that growth pattern, it hasn't shut it off. Farid said they are currently averaging 10 to 12 new stores a month, even as credit to finance those businesses has become increasingly difficult to find.

"We are not having the type of growth we were having before the downturn, but overall we've done well and held our own," Farid said.

Emigrating from Pakistan to the United States in 1969, Farid's entrepreneurial spirit bloomed in the late 1980s, when at age 17, he used a $5,000 cash advance from his parents to purchase a flower shop in East Haven. Within two years, he was operating four successful stores.

The Edible Arrangements concept was launched in 1999 after Farid developed the idea of replacing flower arrangements with fruit that is cut and shaped in a similar manner.

After designing the computer systems, training manuals, production and profitability tracking and supply-chain management process, Farid began franchising the concept in 2001.

With its 900 locations worldwide, Edible Arrangements stores employ about 5,500 people. That includes 28 stores and a corporate headquarters in Connecticut, where the company employs 120 to 150 people. Farid said he would like to reach 1,000 units by 2010.

Annual revenues at the company have skyrocketed from $1 million in 2002 to $301 million in 2008. Projected revenues for 2009 are expected to grow 40 percent to $424 million.

Edible Arrangements is part of an umbrella of seven or eight companies that Farid has developed to help his fresh-fruit concept thrive.

Among them is Frutation, a franchise launched in 2006 that provides consumers "on-the-go" options like dipped fruit and smoothies.

The latest venture is Farid Capital Corp., which offers leasing financing to franchisees that are opening or expanding their stores during the current downturn.

Farid owns relatively few corporate stores, but he plays a key role in the setup process for franchisees.

Although certain markets need cultural and product modifications, consistency throughout all stores is important to the brand, which Farid said has been popular worldwide because of its "wow effect."

"There is an immediate recognition of the product no matter where you are in the world," Farid said. "Fruit is universal and when you see it in the form it's in, people are attracted to it."

That "wow" factor is what attracted Fausto Petruzziello to the company. Petruzziello, a 45-year-old doctor in Hamden who will be the managing director of the new Italy franchise, was first introduced to Edible Arrangements when he received a fresh fruit bouquet from a patient.

"I've been enamored with the idea ever since," said Petruzziello, who was born in Rome, Italy but moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s. Petruzziello said that since he left his native homeland, he's always wanted to bring back to it a new, ground-breaking business. After meeting Tariq Farid and his brother Kamran, who is the chief operating officer of Edible Arrangements, he said he knew the Italian culture would respond positively to their unique concept.

Petruzziello said he will stay in Connecticut and let a team of professionals run the day-to-day operations in Italy, where he plans to open four stores by the end of this year.

Michael Seid, managing director of Michael Seid & Associates, a West Hartford-based franchise consultancy said that despite the recession, there are opportunities for overseas expansion.

"The international climate right now is good for good concepts," said Seid.

Seid said Edible Arrangements has had a "remarkable growth" domestically over last four years and he expects the trend to continue because they have "good, quality management and a very different product that isn't available everywhere."

"It's not another hamburger chain," Seid said.

Seid added that Edible Arraignments separates itself from the competition because of its unique IT system, which Farid developed to facilitate training, store management and point-of-sale operations. The company's technology platform allows franchisees to have 24/7 access to an on-line support system, which provides detailed instructions on how to run every aspect of the company.

That technology is what allows Farid to aggressively grow the franchise in distant countries.

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