I learned a hard lesson on a recent trip to my local Asian supermarket, Tan A. There, in a refrigerated display between puffed tofu and quail eggs, there was a hole gaping where the Kewpie mayonnaise usually sat. Where were my dear plastic bottles with the eponymous little cherub? I wondered in a slight panic. When I found the shopkeeper and asked him where the Kewpie was, he threw his hands up in disgust: “Exhausted! TIC Tac! ”He shouted before walking away.

While TikTok trends touch everything from fashion to dance moves, perhaps none are as prolific and impactful as a viral recipe. Shortly after appearing on TikTok, you can expect to find food media diving with their own takes, while Harris Teeter began stocking “As Seen on TikTok” screens.

In a video posted on September 21 by Emily Mariko, the food blogger mashed cooked salmon and topped it with leftover sushi rice and an ice cube which, by not melting in the microwave, melted the salmon. mind of viewers. Mariko topped off the freshly steamed concoction with a mix of soy sauce, sriracha, and Kewpie mayonnaise. She then added half an avocado, mixed everything together and ate it with squares of seaweed. “Best lunch of the week!” exclaimed the legend. She did a little dance in her chair to emphasize this point; the video has been viewed by 6.9 million people and it is not over yet.

Five days after Mariko’s TikTok went live, Google’s search trends for Kewpie mayonnaise had quadrupled. Soon after, articles describing what Kewpie mayonnaise is, where to find it, and how to make it yourself started popping up everywhere, with some stores like Walmart reporting outages. “Who would have thought that a condiment would achieve celebrity status?” Well, anything goes in the world of TikTok. And Mariko has proven that Kewpie Mayonnaise has the ability to turn something as simple as leftover salmon and rice into something truly gourmet, ”said a writer for The Independent. The article then recommended that readers buy Kewpie immediately, “because famous TikTok products tend to sell out quickly.” Unable to refuel on Kewpie, I did what I always do in a pinch – combined Duke mayonnaise with a dash of seasoned sushi vinegar and a pinch of MSG and admired my own ingenuity.

Viral food trends are nothing new to social media. “Yet the recent surge in food trends coming from TikTok is different from the trends of the past,” says Sarah Rahman in the Michigan Daily. “Food is usually cooked rather than bought and can be prepared by anyone, often including the younger generations. The most viral food trends usually use simple, accessible ingredients and don’t require a lot of skill to master. Part of the appeal is that even someone with very limited cooking experience can watch a one-minute video and think, “I can do this!

The trend for salmon rice bowls is just one recent example in a growing group of binge eating spawns born on TikTok. In early 2021, it was Jenni Häyrinen’s oven-baked feta pasta (Uunifetapasta if you prefer the infinitely nicer Finnish title) that prompted customers to buy the global stock of feta cheese, which led to the New York Times called “TikTok Feta Effect”. The TikTok effect subsequently wiped out the Martinelli apple juice and Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice stores (thanks to that alluring TikTok by Nathan Apodaca sipping straight from the bottle on his longboard while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” ).

All this virality has a major impact on an already fragile supply chain that is affected by the pandemic. “When TikTok goes viral for a new recipe, the first and most responsive way to meet that demand is through safety stock,” that is, the reserves of a product awaiting distribution, explains James R. Bradley , professor of operations and information management. technology at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary. But, Bradley continues, due to pandemic tensions in the supply chain, the safety stock is limited, especially in the case of perishable items. “If TikTok’s trends are big enough, that safety stock is gone.”

From hordes of people buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer to panicking to grocery stores placing limits on units of ground beef and Diet Coke, our entire relationship with shopping changed dramatically in March 2020. During that time period. , consumers were forced to familiarize themselves with a concept that most people didn’t think about much before – that we got used to instant, unwavering access to whatever we want, when we want it.

Bradley describes the supply chain not as a fixed entity but as a series of stages related to the capacity and production capabilities of a company. A bottleneck in one area (and there are a staggering number of complex and interconnected areas, from labor to transportation to raw materials) can lead to shortages on store shelves. Even without TikTok in play, this is currently proving extremely frustrating for grocers – a struggle so widespread that the FTC is now asking chains to provide information to help determine “whether supply chain disruptions are causing bottlenecks.” ‘specific strangulation, shortages, anti-competitive practices or contribute to rising consumer prices.

None of the half-dozen grocery chains I contacted would be interviewing for this story. A source at a major food distributor said, “The company is still deciding on the best message / tools / strategy we want to provide to address this issue because it is such a delicate issue. You would think big box retailers would be keen to get a message across – either, “Yes, we are feeling the pressure of global supply chain issues, but we are taking action to meet the needs of our customers.” or, “No, it’s okay, nothing to do here. Please do your shopping. Instead, there was radio silence bordering on denial.

In an email, Jim Dudlicek, director of communications and external affairs for the National Grocers Association, says he’s not too worried about the effects of social media, noting that trends have come and gone for decades, and that the market generally has “in the face of the resulting increased demand for related products. But he notes that” such trends occurring at a time when the supply chain faces additional challenges … could make these products more rare. ”To speak more frankly of Bradley,“ A big TikTok spike can be a problem to begin with, but in today’s situations where buffers don’t exist and ramping up the supply chain is inherently impossible. , don’t expect to see this mayonnaise anytime soon.

Bradley says he’s skeptical that most of TikTok’s individual trends will have lasting effects, although chains learn to compensate for supply issues in real time. A business may notice an increase a week after the fact and then respond with various marketing ploys, directing consumers to related products or possible substitutions. Do you remember the Ocean Spray Cran-Framboise moment? According to an email from Monisha Dabek, Commercial Director and General Manager, USA, at Ocean Spray, the viral TikTok video “led to sales growth of + 11% for Cran-Raspberry® and + 3-4% for the entire Ocean Spray® franchise. For the first time, Ocean Spray’s Instagram follower count quadrupled in a single week. Dabek says the brand seized the opportunity to steer consumers to other cranberry products, highlighting the health benefits of cranberries for this younger (and apparently more health conscious) audience.

Supply chain volatility is also forcing grocers to use more innovative forecasting tools, such as artificial intelligence, to help predict consumer interest. By using Wi-Fi enabled cameras and collecting real-time data, for example, Walmart was able to increase the overall efficiency of shelf storage in the meat department by 90%, improving sales by 30%. And Kroger relies heavily on technology to improve the customer experience (and sales), investing in fully automated warehouses with robots.

AI-based forecasting tools are another example of technology meant to alleviate inventory issues. According to robotics research firm Robo Global, “AI algorithms don’t just depend on historical data available in stores. They can learn on their own and create predictions even when data is limited – for example when introducing a new product or testing a new promotion technique … a good AI model can make product predictions at a granular level taking into account local and regional trends. Who knows, maybe they’ll even start following influencers on TikTok to try and jump on the next big viral surge.

However, at the end of the day, when a video empties the shelves of pickled garlic stores, it behooves consumers to get creative, either looking for alternatives or creating their own versions of the new, hard-to-find staple. find (like my Kewpie hack). Finding out that TikTok had the power to deplete stocks of Kewpie mayo (or feta before that) was unsettling, but what was far more interesting was how quickly even small retailers were able to adapt. On my next visit to Tan A, I couldn’t help but notice that Kewpie’s display was fully restored and bigger than ever, and yes – just in case the TikTok effect hits again – I made sure to refuel.

Stephanie Ganz is a freelance writer working in Richmond, Virginia. Carolyn Figel is a freelance artist living in Brooklyn.

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