If you are poorish and have 35 minutes to spare, you might consider "disrupting" the all-powerful Edible Arrangement industry. As I did. End result: I saved $100 and wasted 35 minutes.

Step 1: Find an Edible Arrangement to steal.

By way of background: I am not actually planning to give my wife a fruit-salad-with-sticks for Valentine's Day. She loves me and I'm sure would feign appreciation, but that's a little sketchy, even for me. What I hoped to do instead was figure out if other suitors, perhaps ones with a stronger aesthetic sense than myself, could quickly and cheaply cobble together an Edible Arrangement simulacrum that would please even the most standoffish of partners.

So I went to the Edible Arrangements website and picked out a particularly spectacular offering. This one, the "Valentine's Day Bouquet (Large)" (which the image filename indicates is in other months called something to do with "Lovely Berries"). It retails for $129 and zero cents, and is comprised of pineapple hearts, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and little red grapes. It comes in what looks like a metal basket. And so, I had my shopping list.

Step 2: Buy the ingredients.

Our office is near Union Square in Manhattan, home to one of New York's many small bodegas. So I went to Whole Foods, because 1) it was easy, and 2) it seemed like I'd be spotting Edible Arrangements a bit of a head start on cost, given how generally expensive everything at Whole Foods tends to be.

I bought:

  • 1.75 pounds of red grapes: $6.98
  • A package of (non-organic) strawberries: $4.99
  • Off-brand Nutella chocolate, because Whole Foods doesn't sell Nutella, which is weird?: $4.50
  • A pineapple: $4.49
  • Pointy sticks: $1.99

A quick note: I opted for a Nutella-type dip in lieu of the more typical melted-chocolate system that your more seasoned Edible Arrangement-types would use. This is one of the many Economies of Scale™ that Edible Arrangements no doubt enjoys and to which my experiment was not privy.

Anyway. Total cost? $23.12. Already over $100 off the Edible Arrangements price.

Whole Foods didn't sell a little metal red basket though. For that, I went to Pier1 Imports, where I got the closest thing they had: a little red mug. They didn't have that thick green foam that you use for floral arrangements, which seemed like the sort of thing you'd need in the bottom of your basket or bowl. So I got a little willow ball to use to hold the sticks. Total cost there? $7.56.

Meaning that all of the ingredients had a final cost of $30.68, for which I expect the Atlantic Media Company will have no issue in reimbursing me.

Step 3: Preparing the ingredients.

There were three things that needed to be readied prior to assembling the finished product: grapes-on-a-stick, chocolate-dipped and non-chocolate-dipped strawberries-on-a-stick, and pineapple-hearts-on-a-stick. I did these tasks in the time-honored "easiest to hardest" order.

Step 3a: Grapes on a stick.

Prep time: 3:23.

Take grapes out of the bag, put them on a stick. Done. (Tip: Probably you should wash the grapes? I didn't bother.)

Step 3b: Strawberries on a stick.

Prep time: 3:40.

Take strawberries out of the box, put them on a stick. Done.

Sort of. As it turns out! Dipping strawberries in faux-Nutella does not work, as a coworker delighted in telling me before and after I tried to do so. The strawberries already like to slide around on the little sticks; the dense stickiness of the Nutella means that you're not going to be able to pull it out successfully. Instead, I had to spread the Nutella on the strawberry with a knife, like a chump.

Happily I only had to do a few of those.

Step 3c: Pineapple hearts on a stick.

Prep time: 12:26.

Ha ha ha. Oh God.

So! We'll start at the ending. The best way to cut hearts out of pineapple is to cut horizontal slices of the pineapple, and then cut those slices into quarters, and then to shape the little quarter-circles into hearts. Or, if you would like to enjoy an Efficiency of Scale™, you can get a particularly sharp heart-shaped cookie cutter, probably. That's what I would do if this was my actual job, which, thank God, it isn't.

Before I could learn this, though, I had to cut the sides off the pineapple. (Efficiency of Scale™: Use a bigger knife than I did.) At first I thought, Hey, why not just cut a heart in the side of this thing, so I tried that and it was embarrassing. Maybe you can see the little heart shape in the pineapple in the picture above, but probably not.

Then I figured out to do cross sections, but before hitting on the quadrants plan decided to just sort of wing it, making a heart from memory. This didn't work.

This is it, on a plate. That is a "heart."

Eventually, though, I ended up with a (semi-)respectable plate of pineapple hearts. If your preschooler drew a heart as heart-shaped as these, you'd probably be pretty impressed, if you're easily impressed.

Step 4: Assembly.

Total time: 17:40.

Everything about this process seems easier than it is, putting fruit in a cup included.

I dropped strawberries on the table (in the conference room at my workplace where my coworkers will at some point wonder, Why does this room smell like pineapple and why is there fake Nutella on this table?). I had to sort of guess how long the sticks needed to be to make an even sort-of-pretty arrangement. Efficiency™: Have pre-made stick lengths. I had to try and cram those sticks into the little holes of the weird willow ball which — being round! — didn't like to sit still in the bottom of the polished, rounded mug. At this point I will note that maybe I'm an idiot, so your mileage may vary.

I put the strawberries in first, since they're the biggest. Threw a little Nontella on a few of the berries. Put probably too many pineapple hearts in the mix. Added the grapesticks.

And then I was done.

Step 5: Analysis.

OK. So this cost me $30 or so, plus about 40 minutes of my time, which is worth another $5, I'd say. One of the nice things about a DIY Edible Arrangement is that you don't have any of the overhead cost of boxes or shipping or anything; you can make this in your kitchen and then wait until your significant other comes home to surprise them with it, and boy oh boy will they be surprised.

In the interest of complete fairness, I spoke with The Atlantic's Derek Thompson, who edits the website's business stories and who, speaking objectively, knows a little something about business and disruption and all that nonsense.

I presented my creation to Derek, and asked him to tell me how much he would pay for it. "Well," he said, talking something about ingredients and the philosophy of his imminent guess (really, he did this), "I think that I would pay …"

"Somewhere in the mid-$20s."

He and I are no longer friends.