We have Mother Nature to thank for the expression low hanging fruit. A fruit-bearing tree often contains some branches low enough for animals and humans to reach without much effort. The fruit contained on these lower branches may be not be as ripe or attractive as the fruit on higher limbs, but it is usually more abundant and easier to harvest. From this we get the popular expression, which generally means selecting the easiest targets with the least amount of effort.
In business, the term low hanging fruit is often associated with the sale of consumer products or services. Sales professionals, especially those who are just entering the field, are encouraged to seek out the easiest customers first. Competitors may spend more of their time seeking out the higher commission sales of higher "customer branches", leaving the low hanging fruit behind for others to claim. Parents seeking low-cost insurance for school-age children, for example, may be considered low hanging fruit by insurance companies.
Another use of the expression can be found in the political arena. A politician may set a number of easily attainable goals, and accomplish them with minimal effort. The voters may perceive the politician's actions as proof of his strong work ethic, but in reality he only reached for the political benefits of low hanging fruit. Critics often use the expression to describe someone who chooses a sure thing over a more difficult but more rewarding pursuit.
The idea of low hanging fruit can be viewed as both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, it is usually plentiful and often ignored by those looking for more attractive offerings. But low hanging fruit can also be seen as a negative, since the picker understands how low the quality of the fruit can be and picks it anyway. Someone who consistently chooses the immediate gratification could be seen by others as lazy or unambitious.
Critics of the low hanging fruit business model point to the examples of real fruit harvesters. Orchard workers routinely begin picking at the highest point of a tree, where the fruit has been exposed to the most sunlight and is usually the ripest. It makes sense to pick the low hanging fruit last, since it requires more time to ripen. In a business or social sense, it also makes sense to avoid the easiest options if a little more effort and time would result in a much better payoff.