If you’ve been on Instagram in the last week, you know what the Unicorn Frappuccino is.
Or at least you know what it looks like.
The magenta and blue drink became an instant viral sensation on social media this week after Starbucks debuted the limited-time offering on Wednesday.
But for something that contains nearly 80% of the FDA’s recommended maximum daily sugar intake, discussion of the drink has centered more so on its looks rather than its taste.
(For the record, it tastes like an Orange Julius mixed with Sour Skittles, and it’s overwhelmingly sweet.)
Today, how new food items will look on Instagram is a crucial part of deciding what actually ends up on the menu.
“We want people to talk about it, and blog about it, and get excited, and share their pictures,” Liz Matthews, Taco Bell’s chief innovation officer, told Business Insider earlier this month. “We can always make food taste good. But, how do you get that twist that makes it a part of people’s lives instead of just eating?”
At Taco Bell, that means considering a menu item’s Instagramability at every stage in development, from conception, to packaging, to marketing.
Take the company’s launch of its breakfast menu, for example. The breakfast crunchwrap is a best-seller for the company, but the Instagram-friendly Waffle Taco was what made headlines.
It’s indisputable that Instagram can make or break a menu item and the brand behind the concept. Restaurants like Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer in Manhattan, home of the over-the-top milkshake, and the Bagel Store in Brooklyn, which makes rainbow bagels, have gotten national recognition for their supremely Instagrammable items.
The Rainbow Bagel
However, the supreme attention to aesthetics means missing out on a lot of foods that taste better than they look, and forces fast-food chains to add new items that look better than they taste.
The crunchwrap tastes better than the Waffle Taco. A normal latte or Frappuccino tastes better than the Unicorn Frappuccino or the “Pink Drink,” another Instagram sensation. Items such as hummus, casseroles, and enchiladas simply don’t photograph well, no matter how tasty they are.
Frankly, at this point, I’m sick of it.
I don’t blame brands like Taco Bell and Starbucks. When companies are paying people thousands of dollars to post their products on Instagram, fast-food chains would be foolish to skip out on potential free social media advertising.
Instead, we have only ourselves to blame. If we want tastier food, we need to elevate options based on flavor, not purely aesthetics. While it’s been proven that photographing something appealing makes it taste better, buying and eating something purely for its Instagram value is a corruption of food as we know it. Food should be judged not by how it looks, but by how it tastes.
Your actions are fueling a dangerous innovation machine – so, be responsible. Think before Instagram.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of foodninfo.