The WSJ had a great feature last week on Chipotle and the “Keithadilla.” It was a fascinating case study on the state of innovation in the age of TikTok trends.
In late 2022, a TikTok influencer named Keith Lee reinterpreted the Chipotle Quesadilla as an off-menu hack that included a DIY sauce combining Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette and sour cream.
Chipotle was soon overwhelmed by a surge of custom orders for the Keithadilla. The off-menu hack created a massive logistical challenge to Chipotle employees and their supply chain. Some staff refused to make it.
But ultimately by February, just a few months later, Chipotle made the Keithadilla a permanent menu item, which included tech updates to 3,200 restaurants and training for 100,000 employees.
As CMO Chris Brandt put it: “We want to be at the pulse of culture.”
I love how this story captures the tension between long product development cycles at companies and ever-changing consumer tastes. At the center of the tension right now is TikTok, which Corey Robinson, chief product officer for Abercrombie & Fitch called “a billion-person focus group.”
TikTok is an accelerant and amplifier, but the underlying tension is something that businesses have always had to navigate.
I remember a General Mills exec who used to to tell marketers, “the trend is your friend.” Easier said than done: when do you know that a trend is truly a trend and not just a fad?
I remember one debate at a stage gate meeting where someone argued that a particular food craze was a “Trad”, a made-up word that meant it had the sudden spike of a fad but would also have the staying power of a trend. In this case, ultimately it was a fad that faded soon after the new products were launched.
Will the Keithadilla stand the test of time? No one knows, but businesses that can figure out how to build in more creativity, flexibility, and consumer engagement into their operations will have an advantage in a market that changes at the speed of TikTok.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: