TikTok to a Heinz Jar: Vodka Pasta Sauce’s Journey from Fad to Supermarket Shelves | food and beverage industry

Sometimes all you need is some vodka pasta sauce — especially when you’re grounded for trying to charter a helicopter with your dad’s credit card.

When Sofia Coppola’s 16-year-old daughter, Romy Mars, lit the internet last month after doing just that – and then capturing a TikTok video to complain about her being punished for making the sauce – there was plenty of controversy about their family dynamics. However, others were more interested in their food choices.

Vodka pasta sauce has been a viral favorite among social media users since model Gigi Hadid posted an how-to video to her Instagram Stories in 2020, sparking an instant food craze among her fans.

Now, two of those fans are Heinz and vodka brand Absolut, who have teamed up to launch a limited edition of their own version of the sauce, which they say stems from their commitment to innovating “at the speed of social media trends.” “.

Online trends driven by a quick celebrity clip might seem trivial, but for retailers, particularly in the highly competitive grocery sector, they’re anything but. Vodka pasta sauce is far from the only viral trend to have hit supermarket shelves in recent years. Pasta chips, cloud bread, and an alarmingly bubblegum-colored condiment called “Pink Sauce” have all made the journey from hugely popular videos to mainstream product lines.

For brands, it’s about looking at what makes viral moments go, Buttermilk’s Jamie Ray

So, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook aren’t just where brands’ customers are, but potentially their next product ideas as well.

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“Traditionally, product development is about bringing people together, asking them some questions, and building products from that,” says Jamie Ray, co-founder of Buttermilk, a specialist brand and influencer agency. “But now the speed of information is solely determined by social media.

“For brands, it’s about seeing what makes viral moments, [then thinking]OK, influencers are dictating this trend is really going somewhere, we need to incorporate that into our next product line.”

A clear example is that of Twisted, which has just launched its own branded range of social media-friendly groceries with frozen supermarket giant Iceland – think foot-length pigs in blankets on skewers and Yorkshire puddings stuffed with lasagne.

Romy Mars (right) and her mother Sofia Coppola. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs

Twisted began in 2016 when Tom Jackson and a friend began filming and posting food videos on Facebook from their Brixton apartment, inspired by a philosophy they sum up as “rogue food tastes really good.” “And yes, within nine weeks we had a million followers on Facebook,” says Jackson.

Today it is a full-fledged social media company with a core team of content producers, a cookbook, a publishing arm and 40 million followers across all social media platforms. More than 60% of viewers say they’ve tried a Twisted recipe at home, demonstrating the crossover’s appeal to established retailers.

“It’s not just about being viral, or at least not anymore. It’s tangible, you reach into the screen and you can actually eat it,” says Jackson. “And while the products may be fun or sound a little crazy, they taste delicious.”

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Social media engagement can both flop and fly, notes Dom Boyd, managing director of UK Insights and Marketing at retail analyst Kantar, who points out that a quarter of ads bought on digital platforms have no or negative impact. Interactions need to be authentic to a brand’s demographic, he says, “otherwise you’re the daddy at the disco.”

And while the spending power of young, digitally native consumers can be enormous, it’s often poorly understood, says Helenor Gilmour, director of insight and strategy at kids insight consultancy Beano Brain. The retail influence of Generation Alpha (under 13) consumers, for example, extends well beyond viral crazes like YouTuber-promoted prime energy drinks — which have had shoppers queuing for hours to get a bottle — and is even impacting the auto market. She says.

Recent research from Beano Brain found that 69% of Generation A parents say their young children make better decisions about the planet. “It’s not uncommon for children to influence not only the car brand, but even the switch to electric cars.”

You can’t even stop baby boomers from watching viral food videos, even if they might not be featured on TikTokRetail Week’s Ellis Hawthorne

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But don’t assume that only young social media fans are driving product development, says Ellis Hawthorne, features editor at Retail Week. “You can’t even stop baby boomers from watching viral food videos, even if they may not be on TikTok. Those videos are also circulating on Instagram and Facebook — and this generation is on Facebook a lot.” She cites pink gin as a now-established product line that was fueled by older social media users.

For most big brands, online trends are now “entirely ingrained” in their product development, says Hawthorne, “but you have to remember that these viral trends are a very, very small part of their business.

“If you think about the average person walking in and doing their weekly grocery shopping — whether they’ve seen a TikTok about feta pasta isn’t really going to be relevant to the bottom line for these companies.”