The rise of the viral product: How social media is driving grocery trends

For most new product owners, a listing in a major supermarket is what usually leads to a brand taking off. However, there’s a new way to gain real traction – going viral on social.

Take Prime Hydration. Launched in January 2022 by YouTube megastars KSI and Logan Paul, Prime exploded on to the UK market and became a social media revelation.

One year on, Paul said the drink had generated $250m (£194m) in retail sales worldwide, with $45m (£34m) of that made in January 2023 alone.

When Prime hit retailers such as Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, hordes of shoppers queued for hours to get their hands on the drink, which sold out within minutes in some stores.

Sainsbury’s and Asda even introduced buying limits on the products, restricting customers to three bottles each, such was the demand.

Then there’s Feastables, founded by the most-subscribed YouTuber in the world, Mr Beast, who recently secured deals to stock his chocolate bar with Asda and Spar.

There’s also YouTube group The Sidemen, who started stocking their vodka exclusively at Morrisons late last year, and Furocity, Tyson Fury’s energy drink range, which recently partnered with Iceland to promote their new protein bar.

MrBeast Feastables for Asda

So, how exactly do these new brands and products get quite so popular on social platforms, and how can retailers capitalise? Grocery Gazette delves into the new world of the viral product.

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How brands go viral

Of course, popular social media influencers have a headstart when it comes to exposure of their new brands, however, they are not the only ones that can go viral.

Brands across the spectrum can benefit from ‘trending’ on social media, just ask Little Moons.

The mochi ice cream label launched in 2010 and although it had a community of social media fans, mainly on Facebook and Instagram, it wasn’t until January 2021 that it truly exploded when it went viral on TikTok.

Little Moons head of marketing for UK & Ireland Anna Draper says: “While we’d love to say it was one of our videos that kicked the whole thing off in the UK, the truth is that TikTok is a platform that is primarily built on creators.”

“The trend kicked off with creators posting TikToks of them going on a lockdown adventure to ‘big Tesco’ in search of these unique balls of delicious ice cream. And a perfect storm hit – this audience, particularly the younger generation, were clearly experiencing lockdown fatigue and this provided a bit of light relief.

“Perhaps because the structure of these videos was so simple and easy to replicate, thousands of others joined in.”

This social media noise then spilt over into traditional press and daily conversation, which led to people hearing about Little Moons whether they were TikTok users or not.

“The Independent, The Sun, The Mirror, The Express and countless others wrote news pieces about it and Little Moons, sparking a viral craze and it becoming the must-have treat of the moment,” says Draper.

And when it comes to influencer-led brands, the exposure of millions of followers isn’t enough to make a product launch a success.

Social media expert Josie Pattle, senior editor at creative agency We Are Social, says truly knowing your audience to create not just a product, but marketing around that product, is crucial.

“Knowing your audience’s needs and how they’re creating content and interacting online is a good start. Think about what your competitors aren’t saying and what you want your audience to know or feel,” she says.

“Have solid opinions, solve problems easily, tap into interests, fandoms and communities, show you understand them, and get creative.”

The power of TikTok

While apps like Instagram and YouTube are huge, TikTok is undoubtedly the dominant platform for trending topics, particularly with younger generations.

Meanwhile, food-based posts, such as new recipes and products are particularly popular on the platform.

Draper says that unlike other platforms, the number of account platforms is not the primary currency on TikTok, which means that posts can explode from anyone, not just influencers in the typical sense.

“Instead, the algorithm is designed to shine a spotlight on the most interesting and entertaining content, so it truly could come from anyone,” she says.

Pattle says the app is designed to allow users to be creative and share in “new and entertaining ways”.

“Trending sounds, formats, and filters play a massive role on the platform, and help to drive discoverability,” she says.

“These, teamed with active communities, and the fact that TikTok is now a commonly used search engine, mean information is shared not only more easily, but more widely, from more relatable voices.”

It’s not just brands that are harnessing the power of TikTok, supermarkets are also tapping into it.

M&S Food is particularly active on the platform. Content featuring the #percypig hashtag has delivered more than 96 million views on TikTok.

The nature of TikTok lends itself to being ideal for authentic product reviews, recommendations and hacks.

As a result, “brands and retailers could capitalise on this with reviews of their products, or have content creators solve a problem by using that product”.

Innovative ways to solve a problem is a way to make a product trend for a longer period. Whilst many TikTok trends can be fleeting, the #lifehacks term has more than 95 billion views to date.

Pattle says: “It might sound obvious, but sometimes in competing for attention, it’s easy to forget to deliver something customers really want.

“As people continually adjust to an uncertain financial climate whilst juggling busy lives, there is an even bigger need to bring simple solutions to market. And judging by the current landscape, TikTokers will be only-too-happy to share these kinds of finds with their communities.”

Therefore, particularly for retailers, it might be a good idea to set aside some time for a daily TikTok scroll to monitor what trends your audience is tapping into, as well as what’s trending nationally or even globally, and follow a diverse collective of influencers relevant to your brand.

M&S Food marketing Sharry Crammond boss told Raconteur that her team “keep a close eye on what’s emerging”.

“They can get straight into costume and have a post uploaded within an hour,” she says.

@mandsthesprings Michelle’s monthly must haves!! Head down to M&S The Springs to shop her faves, and make food simpler😉 #welovemichelle #mandslocal #foodtok #foodtiktok #michellesmonthlymusthaves #mymarksfaves ♬ Flowers – Miley Cyrus

Draper gives her advice on how brands can get their posts to take off: “Keep it original – users love coming across something new and unique, and this often creates the perfect sharing moment with others.”

She also encourages brands to mark content lighthearted and engaging. “This will ensure users don’t automatically swipe on, so ensure the start captures attention from the offset,” she adds.

But, perhaps most importantly, is to ensure brand content is authentic.

“It can be a great idea to jump on the back of current trends and give it your own twist, but it’s important to stay true to the brand’s tone of voice and individual style, so it feels genuine and not just a piggyback that could put your brand in the conversation for the wrong reasons,” says Draper.

M&S has a social media champion is each store, often a junior member of staff, which Crammond told Raconteur has helped ensure it speaks to a younger audience.

“People believe those who look and sound similar to them.Our colleagues live in the same communities as our customers and know many of them by name. When they’re talking about the latest new product or deal on TikTok or Facebook, that message is translated in a much more compelling way.”

This localised approach seems to be working. Michelle at M&S’ Foodhall in The Springs retail park in Leeds has become a viral sensation due to her ‘monthly must-have’ feature, highlighting her favourite items from its shelves.

Some of her posts have clocked up hundreds of thousands of views. Meanwhile, The M&S store in Romford, east London, used TikTok to launch its own charity Christmas single, which reached number two in the iTunes charts, while

The power of social is real. By posting content that is fun, engaging and authentic, brands and retailers alike can benefit.



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