Going Viral With TikTok

The popular video app is being used by retailers to promote store brands and is having a significant impact on the items shoppers are buying.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
Zachary Russell profile picture

In a few short years, TikTok has quickly become the social media platform where most viral trends are born.

The video app’s popularity skyrocketed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to new trends popping up on a daily basis. Cooking trends were and still are among the app’s most popular videos, with salmon rice, baked feta pasta, yogurt toast and bell pepper sandwiches becoming popular meals made at home, according to Clean Eating Mag.

“People love food, and food is always on the forefront of what’s trending,” said Hilary Topper, president/CEO of HJMT Public Relations, a blogger/podcaster at, author of “Branding in a Digital World” and adjunct professor at Hofstra University teaching digital media. “People want to see content that is relatable and fun. Since the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of people were on their phones scrolling much more often looking for different activities to try while quarantining or working from home. TikTok DIY videos help people feel like they can cook and crowdsource fun recipes. People got to have fun testing out these rather simple recipes and feeling like they were part of something much larger than just cooking in the kitchen.”

TikTok is already shaping how retailers manage their inventory of own brand products. Liz Tyler, category strategy manager of Our Brands at Sprouts Farmers Market, said that the retailer sees the impact of these viral trends on store shelves. She added that TikTok is making customers hyper-aware of product attributes as well.

baked feta pasta
Baked feta pasta was one of many DIY meals that went viral on TikTok.

“We saw the impact at our store when all of a sudden feta is cleared out [for the baked feta pasta trend], and you never know if that trend is going to stay. You have to stay on top of the trends and be able to pivot really quickly,” said Tyler, speaking at the April 27 Store Brands Industry Forum on Consumer Trends. “Another impact of social media and TikTok is that customers don’t take your word for it anymore. When we talk about making these [product] claims, we have to ‘show the receipts’ as they say. For a year and a half, everyone was making sourdough bread. Before, sourdough bread was sourdough bread. Now, the customer base has been baking their own, and they want to know ‘what kind of starter are you using, ‘what kinds of enzymes are you using.’ You have to make sure your product is meeting the claims that you’re making.”

Walmart (left) and Kroger (right) both use TikTok to promote private brands.

With the platform allowing for new food trends to take off overnight, retailers are taking notice, leveraging TikTok to promote private brands. America’s largest grocery chain is just one example of this.

On the Kroger TikTok account with approximately 500,000 followers, simple, multi-ingredient meals are shown being prepared with an instructional voice-over. The products are featured during the process, showcasing items from Kroger’s private label assortment including the Private Selection and Simple Truth brands.

However, the promotion on TikTok doesn’t stop there. Kroger has accounts for both of these private brands, where they further elevate products from the two lines in cooking videos hosted by Chef Mike Floria and Chef Alissa Brockman of Kroger’s culinary team.

While most retailers promote private brands themselves on TikTok, Trader Joe’s has the luxury of having their fans promote products for them. Just like on Instagram and Facebook, there are several Trader Joe’s fan pages on TikTok. The largest of which has more than 100,000 followers and promotes the retailer’s assortment of own brand products. As the retailer continuously releases new and unique items, @traderjoeslist keeps fans on TikTok up to date on the newest products.

On Walmart’s main TikTok account, the retail giant mainly promotes name brand items, but made the exception to feature Kris Jenner in multiple videos promoting the celebrity matriarch’s Walmart-exclusive Safely cleaning product brand.

Walmart did however recently create an account and run sponsored content for one of its newest brands: activewear and swimwear label Love & Sports. The promotional ad content featured models showcasing the bold, neon-centric activewear collection paired with fun, upbeat music.

TikTok screentime
Average hours per month spent on social media (per Wallaroo).

According to data from marketing firm Wallaroo, TikTok has more than 1 billion monthly users, with 138 million of them in the U.S. More than 50% of American TikTok users are under the age of 30, 32.5% of users are between the ages of 10-19, and 29.5% are between the ages of 20-29.

The young, heavily Gen Z audience of TikTok uses the app frequently. The same data shows that a user opens the app an average of eight times a day. TikTok keeps the attention of its users far more than any other social media platform, providing a greater opportunity for retailers to capture attention. Wallaroo numbers show that in 2021, TikTok users spent an average of 25.7 hours a month on the app, compared to Facebook (16 hours) and Instagram (7.9 hours).

The app’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down. While not all retailers use TikTok to promote private brands, it’s clear that they are missing out on a golden opportunity to reach consumers, and not just younger shoppers.

“Retailers need a presence on TikTok because it is one of the most popular sites,” said Topper. “It doesn’t only target Gen Z and Millennials, it also targets their parents and grandparents. It would be unwise to ignore a social platform that has such a large and fast-growing user base. If a retailer isn’t on TikTok, they are missing the boat.”