The “Keithadilla” was Chipotle’s twist on the traditional quesadilla. The real twist? It was invested by a popular TikTok food influencer as an off-menu “hack.” Soon, the Mexican fast-casual chain was overwhelmed by custom orders. The item took longer to make and its mix of ingredients flustered workers, especially when the sauce—a combination of sour cream and chipotle-honey vinaigrette—ran out. When some staffers refused to make the off-menu item, customers began posting angry reviews online. 

At the time the fast food chain was faced with a dilemma to either to give in to the whims of TikTok or risk losing business. The Keithadilla is now a permanent menu item. “We want to be at the pulse of culture,” said Chris Brandt, the chain’s chief marketing officer.

It is now unthinkable that any modern brand would not use TikTok to its advantage. For all its mind-reading insights, the platform has also become a disruptive force in research and development, upending conventional wisdom about product cycles, testing, differentiation and manufacturing. 

Companies scramble to mass-produce products, or fix existing ones, based on feedback that often has a very short shelf life. It’s a gamble—one that many executives say is necessary if they want to win over younger shoppers and keep up with the competition. Even though the app faces bans in the U.S., businesses are shaping their product decisions around it. 

TikTok collaborations can be harrowing for even the gutsiest startups. WYOS, a personal-care company that launched in February, thought it would be a good idea to share its new moisturiser, which comes in stick form, with TikTok influencers to see what they made of it.

The company discovered creators were planning to upload videos that featured them popping the moisturiser into the freezer to show audiences how it could be used as a face-massaging tool.  

WYOS co-founder Wendy Charland said the moisturiser isn’t designed to withstand freezing temperatures, and could burn the skin if applied afterward. WYOS scrapped the influencers’ videos, though it is consulting with its lab about creating a freezer-friendly formula while also weighing how such changes would undermine a year’s worth of product development.

“We want to be careful about what we tweak,” Charland said. “You have to know what’s a fleeting trend and what’s a trend that lasts.”

The story of how “Pink Sauce” went from viral sensation to the shelves of retail giant Walmart is a good example of the TikTok roller coaster. 

The dressing was created by Veronica Shaw, a 30-year-old social-media influencer and private chef based in Miami who is known as Chef Pii. Shaw’s sauce became an online phenomenon last summer thanks to a slew of TikTok videos that featured her smothering different foods—from chicken wings to french fries to shrimp to tacos—with a fluorescent concoction that got its colour from dragon fruit.

After Shaw began selling her sauce directly to consumers online, some customers complained on TikTok that her nutrition labels contained mistakes, or that the sauce was spoiled when it was delivered.

Shaw acknowledged a packaging issue with the first shipment and that some bottles got damaged, but said it involved fewer than 50 packages. “Just like any other up-and-coming brands, they go through trial and error,” said Shaw.

Dave’s Gourmet, a Dallas-based specialty food company, saw an opportunity, according to Chief Executive David Neuman. The company formed a partnership and Dave tweaked the formula to make the sauce vegan, less complicated and suited for mass distribution. At one point, Dave’s had to slow down production because its supplier ran out of dragonfruit. Local investigators from the Food and Drug Administration seized samples of the sauce to be tested for any issues. Neuman believes the product satisfied all the regulators’ needs because he never heard back. 

For decades, brands like H & M and Zara copied fashion trends and churned them out in a matter of weeks. Now, a new generation of fast-fashion retailers makes clothes in days, finely tuning their machines to the TikTok algorithm that dictates what’s in style.

Edikted, a fast-fashion company, releases 150 monthly styles based on viral TikTok clips, said the founder and chief executive, Dedy Shwartzberg. The company has technology that monitors popular TikTok videos and identifies which styles to copy, as does its team of trend experts. 

Is the rapidity of decision making arguably forced onto brands by TikTok a sustainable wave as we move into the near future?… 

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