over the last A month ago, a chef in Miami acquired TikTok with her signature product: Pink Sauce. Carly B, who uses [email protected], posted a series of videos promoting her homemade seasoning, sprinkling horrid puddles of deep purple sauce over her gyros, fried chicken, French fries and tacos.
Known for their close-up silence about the taste of their sauce, the biggest internet mystery since Cinnamon Shrimp Toast Man, Pii has gained internet fame (or shame, depending on how you look at it).
Before Pink Sauce, Pii had less than 1,000 followers on TikTok, but now she has amassed over 80,000 followers and 3 million likes. For anyone promoting a product on TikTok, going viral might sound like a dream – but to TikToker, it’s more than a nightmare.
“We haven’t had the opportunity like other small businesses to go through trial and error, learn through our mistakes and recover from them,” Pii said in a live video last night, streaming to TikTok and YouTube. We didn’t have that chance because we exploded too fast. We spread very quickly.”
A recipe for disaster
“What would you do if you were in my shoes?” Pii said in her live video. “Do you crawl in the corner and hide?”
Pii, a single mother of two children, says she’s been a private chef for four years. Before TikTok, I posted dozens of videos on YouTube between 2018 and 2020, which ranged from mukbang videos to weight loss vlogs, in which I followed cliched diets with questionable nutritional support. The pink sauce debacle started about a month ago, when Pii shared her homemade vibrant pink mix on her little account on TikTok. Since the chef quickly gained millions of views on the platform, far outstripping her one-year-old YouTube channel, she made the decision to package and sell Pink Sauce for $20 a bottle.
Regardless of pricing, her new followers noticed that a few key details were missing: What does it taste like, what are the ingredients, and why is it pink? It even touted its supposed health benefits without revealing the ingredients.
“Honestly, it has its own flavor,” Pii said on TikTok. “If you want to taste it, buy it.”
This puzzle impressed TikTokers, with the hashtag #pinksauce garnering over 80 million views. Many TikTokers wanted to reach out to Pii and watch a black creator succeed – but putting up the sauce was so messy that it became difficult for its fast-growing audience to give it the benefit of the doubt.
As she was preparing to offer Pink Sauce for sale on her website, she had yet to reveal the source of her color scheme – and to make matters even weirder, viewers noted that in every video she posted, the sauce’s color and consistency appeared to be the same. to change.
“The color hasn’t changed, just the lighting,” she said on another TikTok. She later explained in her live video that the brighter pink sauce from previous videos was a prototype, not the product she was mailing (make that what you want).
When Pii finally revealed the ingredients for her pink sauce before it was offered for sale, we were left with more questions than answers. According to drawings on its website, the sauce got its pink color from dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, which grows naturally with a deep purple hue. Although the fruit has a mild taste, some testers described the sauce as ranch-sweet, which makes sense, given the rest of the ingredients on the drawing: sunflower seed oil, honey, hot pepper, and garlic.
But then we get to the nutrition label. TikTokers pointed out that the nutritional facts simply don’t add up – if 444 1 tablespoon servings in a bottle have 90 calories each, there will be roughly 40,000 calories in a bottle, which is computationally illogical.
“Our nutrition facts label had an error, and now they’re trying to carry it with them and saying the nutrition is fake because there was a typo,” Bee told the Daily Dot. “No one is going to get a bottle with a rotten label on it. We pretty much had to redo everything. But business is business.”
But the size of the snack wasn’t the only problem playing it. Aside from the misspelling of the word “vinegar,” the nutrition label indicates that the product—sold unrefrigerated without instructions on how to store it—contains milk. Once again, she only made it clear after shooting the live video that she apparently uses powdered milk and pitaya, which are shelf-stable.
The most exciting moment in the Pink Sauce story came after the first shipments were delivered about two weeks ago in plastic bag-like packages. Sure enough, the pink sauce exploded in transit, causing a stinky mess.
Chef Pii acknowledged damaged packages earlier this week and said only 50 customers received poorly packaged items. She said she sends any affected customers she gets a new sauce, and now, shipments are being delivered in boxes (which are, of course, brightly pink).
Tough area for innovative food companies
After exploding packages, faulty nutrition labels, and general confusion about what people even eat, Chef Pii has become the “main character” of the internet today, which usually isn’t a good thing.
“This is a small company that is moving really, really fast,” Chef Pii said in his apology on TikTok.
The rapid spread on TikTok is now so normal that Pink Sauce’s temporary cultural presence isn’t what makes it so interesting. But this public collapse of a creator-run bid at a food company reflects the greater struggles for food startups and innovative products alike.
At a certain point, the pink sauce’s narrative got out beyond what Pii could control. a meme account With more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, it was repeated over a meme photo of an IV Hospital photo, with the caption, “Don’t eat pink sauce from TIKTOK.” Posts like this inadvertently provoked Rumors That people went to the hospital because of her sauce, but we haven’t seen any evidence that this is true. One user posted a video on TikTok (its only upload) claiming to be in the hospital after eating the product, but TechCrunch was unable to verify these claims.
With questionable information spread across TikTok like a game of phone, it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction – but it’s indisputable that Pii made some mistakes. I owned up to printing incorrect nutrition labels and accidentally mailing pink sauce in packages which caused them to explode during transit. But is she an elaborate scammer, or is she a first-time entrepreneur who makes some big public mistakes, and then falls victim to a dark human desire to drown out a common victim until she evaporates from the internet? Would the internet be so upset if the white man was the one behind the pink sauce? Who can say.
The pink panic wasn’t the first of its kind on social media. Earlier this year, a $25 homemade “Sunflower Soup” also went viral on TikTok to… very mixed reviews. Now, it appears that the TikTok account of the sunflower soup creator has been deleted.
It only makes sense that people would be so hesitant about products like Pink Sauce when even startups backed by Bobby Flay and Gwyneth Paltrow have weathered the dire consequences that can arise when selling food.
Daily Harvest, a vegan meal delivery service valued at more than $1 billion, recently recalled French producer Lentil and Leek Crumbles after hundreds of customers reported severe illness after eating it. Luke Pearson, the influencer who received a PR package from the company, had to have his gallbladder removed after suffering weeks of illness. Abigail Silverman, Cosmopolitan’s director of digital creativity who also received a PR package, posted a viral TikTok post detailing her systemic medical issues and hospital visits since eating lentils. Several customers on Reddit reported similar symptoms, and they sent her to the emergency room.
“Really feels like Theranos. Where is their food made?? The farmers make the ingredients, but who actually makes and packages the food?? A customer wrote on Reddit. This week, The Daily Harvest announced that tara flour—which they say doesn’t appear in any of their other dishes—caused the problem.
Even if a startup doesn’t send people to the hospital, one wrong move could do irreparable harm to the company (and innocent consumers), making it more difficult for businesses to manage home-cooked food.
Last year, Andreessen Horowitz led a $20 million round of Series A for Shef, a marketplace for home cooks. Shef is especially popular with clients from other countries who are eager to indulge in a taste of home from a chef who shares their heritage. Despite sending home cooks through a 150-step preparation process, a chef must deal with legal issues related to their business. Each state has different home food laws, which regulate the sale of homemade foods. In states like California, the complexities of the law can vary even down to the county. An e-commerce platform for independent chefs, Castiron also raised project funding last year. Castiron has emerged as many countries in the era of the pandemic have made it easier to legally run independent food companies, but the platform still has to be careful to ensure that its partners follow their local laws.
Small food companies are much more difficult to operate as an independent creator, since TikTokers generally do not have the luxury of project funding to help them navigate such difficult legal and ethical territory. Some major socialites like MrBeast, Emma Chamberlain, and the Green Brothers have launched their own ghost kitchens and coffee businesses, but these creators are created enough to have the resources to launch such businesses properly. An unknown chef in Miami is not trustworthy.
Even when you remove the element of selling a product that people put into their actual bodies, we’ve seen some memorable impactful actions on social media. Remember Caroline Calloway’s pitcher crisis? Now, startups like Cobalt and Pietra are making money by helping creators launch their own products, but unfortunately Calloway’s public disputes require more than just a business partner to resolve.
Despite targeted online vitriol, Pii is not giving up. She said the product undergoes lab testing, is manufactured in a facility and follows Food and Drug Administration standards. Once it passes, you want to try to put the product in stores. She also mentioned on her account that this week alone she sent more than 1,000 requests.