The Price of Pie

I woke up this morning after having a dream that my future kids (no doubt a little more brown than above) opened up a stand where they sold apple pies. They would set up the stand on a busy street corner, sell the pie in slices for some amount per slice, be wildly successful, and they’d get all their spending money off of that business. When I woke up, I found myself wondering if that was actually doable. Or rather, how much would it cost to sell an apple pie?

Everything that follows is based on the recipe found here:, the prices of things at Safeway (get those sales boy!), and the sales tax rate in Seattle (currently 9.5%). I’m not including the costs of actually driving to get the ingredients, the electricity/gas it takes to cook the pies, or other things that are just available at home like water. I’m also not getting fancy with it and including gluten-free anything or whole wheat flour or whatever else. This is just basic-ass homemade apple pie from scratch.

Going down the ingredients list, we have totals of…

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.2 cups sugar
  • 0.25 cups brown sugar
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 0.25 cups vegetable shortening
  • 0.5 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3.25 pounds apples
  • 3.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract (I’m adding this one in)

Now of course, you can’t just head down to Safeway and buy 1.5 teaspoons of salt, or one and a quarter sticks of butter. You’ve gotta buy the whole package of everything. Thus, the price list looks like

  • Flour – $1.88 for 5 lbs
  • Sugar – $1.99 for 4 lbs
  • Apples – $1.99 per pound
  • Brown Sugar – $5 for 6 lbs
  • Unsalted sweet cream butter – $3.99 per pound
  • Salt – $0.69 for 26 oz
  • Shortening – $5.49 for 48 oz
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – $6.19 for 128 fl oz
  • Vanilla Extract – $8.29 for 4 fl oz
  • Cinnamon – $9.78 for 12.36 oz

The assumption here is that you’re gonna make a number of pies, instead of just one. So it makes more sense to buy in bigger quantities to get the best price per whatever unit weight/volume each item has. So you go, you do this, and that first trip subtotals to $49.80, with 9.5% sales tax knocking it up to $54.53. Hot damn! You damn sure better make more than one pie at that rate. Breaking it down, each part of the pie is costing you…

  • Sugar – $0.27 (0.53 lbs)
  • Flour – $0.27 (0.69 lbs)
  • Apples – $6.50 (3.25 lbs)
  • Brown Sugar – $0.10 (0.11 lbs)
  • Butter – $2.50 (0.8 lbs)
  • Cinnamon – $0.26 (0.32 oz)
  • Vanilla – $0.18 (0.083 fl oz)
  • AC Vinegar – $0.01 (0.083 fl oz)
  • Salt – $0.01 (0.3 oz)
  • Shortening – $0.21 (1.8125 oz)

This comes up to about $10.31 per pie, $11.29 after sales tax. Yeesh, there goes the dream of selling them at a dollar per slice. Good god, if only those apples didn’t cost so much. Like, if you had an apple tree in your back yard you could make a killing on these things (provided you don’t run out of apples).

Getting this far raises two more questions in my mind: how many pies can we make before running out of our first (non-apple) ingredient? and what’s the price per slice to make it worthwhile?

In Chemistry there’s the idea of the limiting reagent, where your chemical reaction is limited by whatever ingredient gets used the fastest. What’s our limiting reagent here, aside from apples? The next thing to go before the next grocery store trip is clearly butter, since one run to the grocery store will only bring back enough apples and butter to make one pie. That, my friends, would be a waste of all those other ingredients. Let’s just say we buy however many bags of apples and boxes of butter we’d need. So what’s next? It’s a close race, but the flour actually goes just before the sugar does. You could make about 7 pies with that amount of flour (7.25 pies really, but who’s making a quarter pie?). To buy all the apples and butter necessary and all the ingredients for the first run, it’d cost you about $119.10 including tax.

So we make our 7 pies and now we sell them by the slice—8 slices per pie for 7 pies making 56 slices. In order to break even, we’d have to sell your pies at about $2 per slice. Actually, I’m rounding; selling at $2 per slice puts you at a net loss of $7.10. That won’t do. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be able to use this to teach my kids about business, and what’s a business that doesn’t make a profit worth talking about? They’re kids so they would be happy making even $5 per hour, and let’s say we sell for an afternoon for 4 hours if I could get them to sit still and be dedicated for that long. This rounds out to $20 profit (a 16.8% gain). That’d require the pies to be like $2.50 per slice at $20 per pie.

Honestly, that’s not a terrible haul. And in the meantime they’d learn a little about business and a lot about the value of hard work. Something to think about.