TikTok’s rise as the social network of choice for younger consumers is seemingly unstoppable. What was once dismissed as a juvenile platform for silly dances has become a cultural powerhouse, offering content that’s hyper-targeted to the interests of the individual user, whether that’s fashion, beauty, football, politics… or food and drink.
TikTok’s popularity (it has 1.5 billion users) makes it a hugely influential tastemaker, particularly for Gen Z. It’s where they go to discover the latest and greatest trends, and it has in fact surpassed Google as the search engine of choice for younger consumers.
In short, whatever your stance on its ethics, TikTok is a phenomenon that can’t be ignored.
The Next Big Thing in Tea?
With so much influence and so much creativity, is TikTok a platform the tea industry should be watching for inspiration? After all, it has a thriving community of food and beverage “content creators,” producing content on just about any topic you care to mention, often with a focus on the new, the innovative and the aesthetic.
To find out if TikTok is the place to uncover the next big thing in tea, let’s search the platform to uncover tea trends that could make the leap from social media sensation to commercial success.
Here are three must-watch tea trends at TikTok:
TikTok Trend No. 1 – Tea Bombs
Tea Bombs – a mixture of tea and botanicals, encased within a dissolvable sugar shell – have proved to be a huge hit on TikTok with users falling in love with the cutesy aesthetic. And, it’s easy to see why – tea bombs bring a sense of theater and occasion to the process of drinking tea. But could it work in a commercial setting?
Tea bombs are certainly an emerging trend, but it’s easy to see how they could be used to add value in a café setting. The mysterious orbs can catch a customer’s eye across the counter, and it's an opportunity for them to choose a bespoke blend of tea and botanicals. Customers will delight as the shell melts away to reveal the treasure within. This sense of theater would certainly elevate the current tea experience in a foodservice setting.
Logistically, tea bombs seem challenging. The shells are, by their very nature, extremely delicate and would require extremely careful storage and handling. Indeed, it’s easy to see how surprise and delight could turn into a logistical nightmare for foodservice operators, and disappointment for customers.
Verdict: A fantastic idea, if it can be executed properly.
TikTok Trend No. 2 – Blue Moon Thai Tea
As a global platform offering video content, TikTok makes it possible to discover products and trends from all corners of the world. One such example is blue moon Thai tea, a traditional Thai tea which derives its distinctive color from butterfly pea flowers.
Its flavor comes from a mixture of black tea and other botanicals, and it’s commonly served with boba.
That boba/bubble tea is on trend should come as no surprise, as it’s enjoyed fast growth in the Western world over the last few years. However, what makes this Thai tea interesting is its distinctive cerulean color which, to misquote Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, is the culmination of major industry operators working behind the scenes to achieve this.
Blue has typically been a difficult color to achieve using natural ingredients. In fact, of all U.S. food and drink launches containing artificial colors in the last five years, 54 percent of them used the “brilliant blue” color (Mintel, 2022). But in late 2021, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of butterfly pea flower extract as a color additive, opening up opportunities for innovation in the United States, and it’s driving the trend for blue beverages.
Verdict – Boba/bubble tea shows no sign of slowing down, but the growth of natural blue beverages is also one to watch.
TikTok Trend No. 3 – #DIY
With millions of creators sharing aspirational daily routine videos, how-to instructionals and recipes, we’re seeing tea beverages being prepared by consumers in highly innovative ways – previously only attempted in foodservice channels. From frothy matcha and vanilla oat milk lattes in the morning to rose milk tea, these videos reference health trends, flavor innovation and moments of indulgence for consumers seeking to elevate their everyday consumption experiences.
What seems like frivolous and light-hearted fun with beverages could indicate a major shift in consumer behavior post pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. During COVID-19, we saw major growth in the trend for “insperiences,” with consumers seeking new product experiences from the confines of their own home. This led to a surge in creativity, and at-home replication of typical out-of-home serves. As consumers look to tighten their belts, affordable indulgences such as tea drinks at home offer cost-effective ways to treat themselves.
Verdict – TikTok DIYs are driven by major consumer trends, and this trend is here to stay! For brand owners, the message is “lean in” to this trend and develop products that enable consumers to customize and innovate at home.
Sustainability, TikTok as a Trend Monitor
Picking just three product trends from TikTok wasn’t easy, as there is a staggering range of content being developed by innovative creators. It’s a rich source of ideas, and if the videos and ideas there are anything to go by, our industry is heading in so many exciting new directions.
Yet, TikTok isn’t just a place for new product development inspiration, it’s also a place where attitudes are forged. Creators – often with a huge and dedicated following – can shape the worldview of their followers, and bring significant issues to the fore.
One such topic, which has gained major traction, is the area of sustainability. Views of environmental content on TikTok have increased six-fold over the past year, and the top 40 climate-related hashtags have received 85 billion (yes, billion!) views in the last year alone (TikTok, 2022). Content creators are especially driving awareness, sharing ways to live more sustainably, and encouraging their viewers to become more involved in environmental issues.
For the tea industry, this could manifest in several ways – including an expectation that companies look to reduce waste, source products sustainably, and live up to ethical values. Tea brands and suppliers would be well-advised not to underestimate the importance of this trend for young consumers, and the power of capturing their admiration for delivering ethical, sustainable products.
Whichever direction these trends take you in, there’s no denying that TikTok is an increasingly important place to understand how Gen Z is thinking about tea.
Siân Edwards is Finlays’ group insights manager, responsible for understanding the trends and dynamics that drive the global market for tea, coffee and botanical ingredients. Finlays is a leading B2B supplier of tea, coffee and botanicals. To learn more, visit their Global Beverage Trends Report 2023 or see Finlays.net.
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