Pickle Kits and Vodka Pasta – What can CPG brands learn about Gen Z from TikTok Trending

We’ve all seen the weird and wonderful food combinations that go viral on TikTok. While they are often unusual products, they command the attention of Gen Z consumers and drive sales through the roof. Consider the pickles wrapped in fruit roll ups, stuffed with Takis, and drizzled with Tajin that have been going viral lately – #pickle now has upwards of 4 billion views on the social media platform. Sellers have taken the chance to compile all the ingredients needed for the trend into ‘Pickle Kits,’ with some vendors selling upwards of 70,000pcs.

So, what can CPG brands learn from TikTok about Gen Zers’ tastebuds?

  1. The ‘challenge’ element
  2. Influencer recipes
  3. Global tastes

1. The ‘challenge’ element

‘Instagrammable’ is now a widely accepted adjective in marketing, often used to appeal to Millennial audiences; alluding to the polished, aesthetic type of products that would not go amiss on an Instagram feed. However, as we’ve discussed before, Gen Z is much more likely to be found on TikTok; so bid farewell to Instagrammable, it’s all about ‘TikTokkable’. What does this mean? Something that makes for entertaining content, whereby we must assemble it ourselves, or the flavours are crazy, making it a ‘challenge’.

These are the types of food products that generate mass appeal amongst Gen Zers, as we want to be part of the hype and share our own videos. The aforementioned pickles are a great example of this; with unique flavour combinations and the novelty of assembling from a kit. However, note that while ‘challenge’ products are great for a viral moment, lots of these are one and done, we aren’t likely to keep coming back once our videos are published.


Haven’t wrapped the chamoy pickle kit in fruit roll ups before! 😍 #chamoypickle #chamoycandy #snack

♬ original sound - kimmyc0le

Learning for CPGs:

Could you introduce a crazy flavour that could make for a fun tasting challenge? Or if you’re seeking to apply these learnings beyond a viral moment, could you adopt the ‘kit’ format and create a great tasting product that needs to be assembled?

2. Influencer recipes

Celebrities and influencers often drive TikTok food trends. In 2021 Emily Mariko’s salmon bowl took the platform by storm, inspiring lots of recreation attempts and multiplying sales figures of the ingredients required. Mariko’s first video of the salmon bowl went up on September 21st 2021 and according to Instacart’s purchase data, as of September 29th, orders containing salmon and dried seaweed grew by 100 percent. Another example is penne alle vodka, which is not a new concept, but when model Gigi Hadid made a video about her own tutorial, the concept took off amongst Gen Zers. The #gigihadidpasta now has upwards of 400 million views on TikTok.

In 2022 Heinz launched a pasta sauce range and seized the opportunity to draw attention to this by harking back to Gigi’s viral video. They formed a partnership with Absolut to release a limited-edition tomato vodka pasta sauce, capturing the attention of TikTok users. Two months after the collaboration launched, and 500m impressions later, sales of Heinz pasta sauces were up more than 50% across the whole range, overtaking Ketchup as Heinz’ bestselling product.

Learnings for CPGs:

Pay attention to trending recipes. You don’t have to release a product immediately, Heinz’ pasta sauce came 2 years after the initial video, but take note of which recipes gain popularity; this can give great insight into the Gen Z palate. Further, while viral moments don’t last forever, the buzz generated by a limited-edition product can bring attention to the whole range.

3: Global tastes

Gen Z are open to a range of cuisines, with TikTok trends ranging from #birriatacos (118.1k posts) to a peaked interest in African cuisine, with 112.7k posts under the fufu hashtag, for example.


Trying fufu for the first time 👀

♬ original sound - Anna Paul

Brands should be bold in embracing new flavours and cuisines. Consider the success of Ayo foods – a West-African inspired CPG launched in the USA. Ayo sells frozen and boxed foods alongside a line of hot sauces. In less than two years, the business went from selling its products in 50 stores to more than 4,000 locations nationwide, including Kroger, Target and Whole Foods. There’s no doubt that social media had a role to play in the increasing interest in international foods:

“Gen Z has everything at their fingertips, so with flavors and ingredients more accessible and less intimidating, there’s an openness to new experiences.”

Learnings for CPGs:

Think Global. With the influence of social media, inspiration is rife, and the younger generation is keen to sample lots of different cuisines. Consider how you might reduce the intimidation factor with ready-to-eat meals or kits.

In summary

While TikTok food trends are often fleeting, there are commonalities that can offer guidance for CPGs. When developing new products for Gen Zers, consider the following:

  • For limited-edition products, consider appealing to novelty with a ‘challenge’ or ‘kit’ element, incorporating unique flavours.
  • Take note of trending recipes and consider how you can leverage their popularity. E.g. forming product bundles for popular recipes, or even creating a limited-edition product like Heinz and Absolut.
  • Look beyond the local – the TikTok algorithm is wide-reaching, giving Gen Zers a taste for global cuisine. Could you make this easier for us to achieve, by creating international ready meals or meal kits, for example?
Gabrielle Carruthers Gabrielle Carruthers