What happens when fans begin to wield influence over the flavors of their favorite brands? In the heart of limited-time offers (LTO) season during the 20th anniversary of Starbucks’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, many consumers are often sad to see newfound favorite flavors or perennial favorites disappear at the end of their limited runs.
In today’s social-media-driven market, however, fans can harness significant influence from the comfort of their homes and completely change the economic game for brands in a grassroots-type deluge of user-generated content (UGC) that leads to more trips to the store, to the grocer, to the restaurant, to the bar, to wherever they can find whatever it is they’re looking for (as seen in the Grimace Shake at McDonald’s earlier this summer), not only promoting a brand in an original, non-sponsored content type of way, but encouraging others to do so as well.
Some become notable influencers, but most are simply along for the social media magic carpet ride of likes, follows, and reposts.
And sometimes when the consumers talk, the c-suite listens. Here are three examples of how once-unthinkable products, flavors, and basic outreach from those who love them have had a very tangible – and for some brands, profitable – ripple effect in the market.
Cookies for Breakfast
Sugar or chocolate, simple or bougie, gluten-free or loaded with lactose, most everyone can identify some sort of cookie that makes them weak in the knees when proffered at a party or visit.
Some even like (or prefer) them in or with their cereal. And as their cereal.
“At Magic Spoon, we’re constantly introducing limited-edition flavors and offering our take on a ‘drop model’ for cereal flavors,” said Chandler Dutton, head of growth at Magic Spoon, to The Food Institute.
“We typically launch these limited run flavors seasonally and people get really excited about trying something new. These limited time offerings not only offer our community a chance to try different flavors, but it allows us the chance to create and test out new flavors, as well.”
This summer, Magic Spoon released Chocolate Chip Cookie as part of a limited-edition “Camp Case” flavor pack. Paired with Oatmeal Cookie, the duo was quite a hit as likes, comments, and re-posts piled up on Instagram and TikTok.
“People loved the flavor so much they were demanding [its] return,” Dutton said. He also added that customer response surveys saw an overwhelming amount of feedback asking for more Chocolate Chip Cookie. So they brought it back full time, igniting a cookie-crumbled firestorm on social media of excited consumers.
“Limited-time offerings allow us to not only bring new flavors to our community, but also see what people would like the most,” he said. “Through creating limited-edition flavors, we’re able to test the waters with what cereal flavors people might get the most excited about then produce more of the flavors that really resonate with folks.”
Still, it doesn’t always work out – for every Chocolate Chip Cookie resurrected from the warehouse there are a handful of fans experiencing permanent lineup FOMO of their favorite flavors.
“We’ve had quite a few flavors that we’ve introduced as LTOs and while they haven’t been extended as permanent flavors, they’ve made their return as LTOs a handful of times,” Dutton said, citing Pumpkin Spice as a new iteration of a different LTO – Pumpkin Chai.
“Sometimes, like with Pumpkin Spice, the seasonality of a flavor plays a key role in it remaining an LTO as opposed to a permanent flavor, but people love them just as much,” he concluded.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles – directly into the cereal bowl.
Sussing the Next Hot Drop in Hydration
Some brands have the luxury (and/or motivation) to simply poll their consumers to help dictate the next drop. For waterdrop, a company that makes ice-cube sized “microdrinks” from fruit and plant extracts designed to fit into any water container for more flavor and less waste, the European-based company asked about 4,000 consumers what they wanted.
“We were thrilled to poll our waterdrop community for their response on which limited-edition flavor they wanted to see next, which led us to launching Koko Piña,” said Águeda Trujillo, head of marketing (US).
“Through polling, we were able to get an idea of how many people would be interested in the limited-edition flavor. This was extremely valuable when bringing this LTO to life because we knew people would get excited about it. LTOs provide a great opportunity to introduce new flavors for people to try that might be seasonal; Koko Piña was extremely fitting for summer and we were thrilled to bring it to our community this year.”
Trujillo said the tropical-flavored Koko Piña won the polling “in a landslide” and that the zero-sugar hydration solution “left no questions for our team on whether or not we should bring the flavor to life.” waterdrop produced a limited amount and brought it to market over the summer and is open to the possibility of bringing it back once more.
When Sales Figures Meet Meet Marketing Opportunities
Some brands get lucky with a bold flavor and a marketing partner. For OLIPOP, Banana Cream surprised everyone.
“LTOs are a really exciting moment for us to try a new flavor,” said Ben Goodwin to The Food Institute. Goodwin OLIPOP’s founder and CEO.
“At OLIPOP, we love experimenting with new flavors, some are more traditional while some are more unordinary. While we’ve introduced limited-run flavors at OLIPOP like Blackberry Vanilla and Crisp Apple, Banana Cream was one that we decided very quickly that it needed to become a permanent flavor.”
Goodwin said OLIPOP was later approached by Warner Bros. to create a limited-edition flavor for its recent Minions movie. It was exactly the chance most brands dream of but few get to realize.
“We never thought [Banana Cream] would be a permanent flavor since it has such a unique taste profile, but then the flavor was a huge hit at launch,” Goodwin mused. “Even after the initial buzz around the movie, people continued to request Banana Cream nonstop and we figured that we had to bring it back.”
Gardner said the OLIPOP team scrutinized the sales data from all channels – retail, DTC, and e-commerce.
“For Banana Cream, the product was not only flying off shelves and selling out online, but we were seeing social media comments of people asking when it would come back and for us to bring it back full time. On top of this, we all loved the flavor so it made sense that Banana Cream would make a permanent return,” he said.
Goodwin added the most exciting part was seeing consumer excitement coalesce around the flavor making a full-time return, even if many didn’t realize it wasn’t a limited-time offer—“People were ecstatic to see it come back and there was a bit of a rush to get the flavor when it was reintroduced, almost as if it was a limited-edition run again,” Goodwin said.
As food inflation endures and consumers find new ways to budget for seasonal favorites as the holidays approach, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the next LTO-to-permanent-product will be. Despite high costs, consumers seek indulgence amid premiumization across the F&B spectrum, prompting many brands to craft once-unthinkable combinations in the name of flavor, frivolity, and certainly sales.
Just ask Kellogg’s, who recently partnered with The Caviar Co. for its TikTok-fueled and Real Housewives of New York-realized bougie Crisps and Caviar Collection, as reported by snackandbakery.com. The only question is, which to serve your guests – Pringles x The Caviar Co. Smoky Shores trout roe ($49); Pringles x The Caviar Co. Salt of the Sea white sturgeon caviar and creme fraiche ($110); or the robust Pringles x The Caviar Co. ‘Crisps and Caviar’ Flight ($140)?