The INSIDER Summary:
- Starbucks recently came out with a limited edition unicorn frappuccino.
- Like with numerous other viral foods, many people don’t actually like how the frappuccino tastes.
- With most of these new viral foods, it’s about aesthetics over taste, as people love Instagramming them.
- Social media helps to perpetuate this food trend, which largely ends up benefiting restaurants and retailers.
If you haven’t heard of Starbucks’ unicorn frappuccino, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last few days.
And that was Starbucks’ goal in creating the frappuccino: to start a viral sensation that everyone is talking about.
The coffee giant is the latest retailer to cash in on people’s need for food and beverages that don’t necessarily taste good, but that are highly Instagrammable.
Starbucks follows in the footsteps of The Bagel Store, a Brooklyn shop that created the vibrant rainbow bagel, or Black Tap, an NYC-based burger restaurant whose crazy milkshakes contain everything but the kitchen sink, but taste pretty much like a regular milkshake. There’s even a whole café dedicated to unicorn food in Bangkok.
But this trend of creating food solely in hopes that it will go viral is deeply concerning. Here’s why:
Taste is not the main priority.
From the anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered and stories I’ve read, not all that many people actually like the way the unicorn frappuccino tastes. One man told me it was too sugary and he wouldn’t order it again, and another even went so far as to call the drink “disgusting,” saying he was mad he had wasted his money and he would not recommend it to friends.
Then there were the baristas I spoke to, most of whom admitted they weren’t fans of the frappuccino — one even said she refused to try it. All of them claimed that it was highly annoying to make: in fact this poor barista ended up having a full-on meltdown because of the beverage.
This isn’t surprising. A common complaint surrounding the famously viral rainbow bagel is the fact that it doesn’t taste that great thanks to all the food coloring it’s made with.
These stunts are just meant to get customers through the door — they don’t necessarily aim for repeat business.
Instagram has become overwhelmingly influential in our everyday decisions of what to eat and where to eat it. We follow food Instagrammers like @cheatdayeats and @foodyfetish to locate the latest drool-worthy food we need to try, and businesses are onto that, becoming increasingly concerned with the Instagrammability of their food rather than the taste of it.
And in a world where social media is everything, they can get away with it.
It is highly doubtful that hordes of people would have waited in hour-long lines to eat mediocre food, no matter how aesthetically-pleasing, in the pre-Instagram era. But in this day and age, people seem to garner more satisfaction from racking up likes on a photo of a crazy dish than from savoring the taste of something that won’t look so good on a screen.
So businesses are creating these crazy foods to attract customers and spread the word through social media — but if the food isn’t good, people won’t come back. So is this really feasible in the long run?
Viral foods are a vicious cycle.
There’s nothing particularly original about the unicorn frappuccino. In fact, a Starbucks representative even told us that the drink was inspired by this unicorn hot chocolate recipe.
Restaurants and retailers use pretty foods as a ploy for publicity, and we fall into the trap every single time. It wouldn’t be such a trap if the taste actually lived up to the look, but to lure customers in with aesthetically-pleasing food only to have them try it and discover it’s not tasty, well that’s just over promising and under delivering, which anyone who’s worked in the retail or food industry will tell you is a big no-no.
But as long as people continue to buy these foods and post about them, the trend of pretty but gross food will continue: it’s a vicious cycle, and it’s really our own fault.
When I asked the Starbucks customer who thought the frappuccino was “disgusting” why he bought it in the first place, he promptly answered, “it’s pretty to look at.”
And that, right there, is why beautiful but mediocre food doesn’t just exist, but thrives. It’s time to break the cycle and go back to eating things that actually taste good.
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