Produce growers are bringing their fruits and vegetables to their consumers, not at a farmers market but on TikTok.
It started with a baked feta pasta recipe that made its way onto TikTok in January 2021 and went viral on the social media platform. In the videos, home chefs roast cherry tomatoes, olive oil and feta, add herbs and cooked pasta and the recipe went viral online and in grocery stores. Cherry tomato sales went up about 19% that week, according to the International Fresh Produce Association’s data. News organizations also widely reported that feta cheese was difficult to come by. Today, the tag #bakedfeta has 127.7 million views.
With younger generations buying a lot of products online through social media, including food, produce farmers see an opportunity to get their goods directly into the hands of millennials and Gen Z. They’re using social content and influencers to try to keep people buying fresh food.
“We need to meet consumers where they are,” said Cathy Burns, chief executive officer of the International Fresh Produce Association. “Millennials are a very big purchaser now, and they continue to impact the economy, and gen z is right behind them. Social media has continued untapped potential for our industry.”
There’s growing evidence that, with the right push, humble harvest items can capture the spotlight. This summer, corn also had a moment in the sun thanks to a child who has been fondly nicknamed “the Corn Kid,” by his internet fans.
“Ever since I was told corn is real, it tasted good,” the boy says in the video. “When I tried it with butter, everything changed.”
Social media is a pretty inexpensive way to market, which is a real opportunity for the industry, Burns said.
“If you can hit it big like the corn kid, there’s huge upside,” she said.
One company taking note is Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Company, which has featured big-name celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Groot in its commercials for pistachios. The closely held company grows and sells a variety of food products, including fruits, nuts, flowers, water, wine and juices. Now, it’s making a new and dedicated investment in TikTok across many of its brands, including Wonderful Halos, Wonderful Pistachios, POM Wonderful and Wonderful Seedless Lemons. The company’s in-house advertising agency even has dedicated TikTok experts.
“The impact of TikTok is undeniable in reaching a younger audience,” said Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing at the company. “Investing in TikTok allows us to connect with millennials and gen z in a fun and authentic way that we can’t get from traditional TV or print advertising. It allows for engagement, interaction, and a variety of content so that there’s something for everyone in a very in-the-moment way that traditional advertising timelines don’t allow for.”
The Wonderful Company is working with influencers across its brands. It’s looking for people who really love the products and healthy snacks, Cooper said.
“As a company, we pride ourselves on being innovative in the way we market our products, and TikTok is that next evolving space for brands,” Cooper said.
One of the first partners for the company’s Wonderful Halos brand, which sells mandarins, is with @greyandmama, an account run by Linda Meeker who gained popularity on social media by sharing videos of her son Grey learning to say “thank you.” She wrote a book for young children on healthy eating.
“It’s super sweet, and they’re super yummy,” the child says while peeling a mandarin in the paid partnership post.
TikTok can be especially helpful for local farms. At Lonely Pines Farm, a small-scale flower and garlic farm located on the Olympic Peninsula, social media is an essential part of the business. Laura Schletzbaum, and her husband Jerry Bergstrom, have amassed over 3.5 million likes on Tiktok and thousands of follower across Instagram and YouTube. TikTok has helped them reach a new customer: young gardeners.
“We’re completely incorporated social media into our business plan,” Schletzbaum said. “Instagram is the main source for our local customers, it allows them to buy flowers and garlic from us directly, whereas Tiktok gives us exposure to a whole new generation of gardeners. There’s literally no way anyone would have found us if they hadn't found us on social media.”