Watch: People queue for 3 hours to buy takeaway jacket potatoes
People have been flocking from as far as Australia to get their hands on jacket potatoes from a takeaway van in Staffordshire.
Ben Newman - aka Spudman - has seen customers queuing for up to three hours to buy his spuds in the market town of Tamworth after becoming a TikTok sensation. The 39-year-old now sells scores of jacket potatoes - including, he says, 1,500 in a single day - priced between £4 and £5 each after racking up 2.6 million followers and 41.6 million likes.
Ben, who has nine children and lives in Burton-upon-Trent, says he doesn't understand how he became an unlikely tourist attraction and initially joined the social media platform to keep an eye on his children. Since then, his simple Go-Pro videos of him sharing culinary tips and daily life as a jacket potato vendor have exploded in popularity.
Ben, who lives with partner Sarah Simpson,37, AKA Spudwife, said: "For no real reason that I'm aware of, some videos were getting millions of views. One has had almost 100 million views. All of a sudden people from across the world were turning up - from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and USA. The most surreal moment was this couple from Malaysia, who hadn't come to the UK for a holiday - they came just solely to see me.
"They caught a flight to Gatwick and then hired a car to drive to little old Tamworth solely for a jacket potato.
Ben has been at the same location for more than 20 years after setting up his own business, Newman's Catering, at 18. He became Spudman (@spudarmy) around two years ago and believes his late father, a jacket potato merchant, would be proud of his recent success.
His jacket potato van has been likened to Binley Mega Chippy in Coventry, which welcomed people from the UK and abroad after videos and memes featuring the business received millions of views on TikTok in 2022.
The van has been getting a variety of visitors, from millennials to middle-aged families, and its best seller is the classic cheese and beans, which costs £4. Customer April Hall, 38, a support worker, travelled an hour from Telford, to try a jacket potato with cheese and tuna. She added: "Some of the guys I support have been going on about him for weeks after watching all of his stuff online.
"I'm not really into social media that much so it all seemed a bit bizarre to me but I promised them we would go and see him. We came early to avoid the queues and he is such a nice man. The jacket potato was lovely too.
"It's amazing to see normal, down to earth people making it in life so credit to him. He has done really well to get this following and we were happy to support him."
Another customer, McDonald's manager Lewis Rochelle, 18, of Cannock, said: "I just wanted to see what the fuss was about. I paid £5 for a jacket with cheese and beans and it was really good, so it was well worth the trip.
"I saw his videos before Christmas when he had about a hundred thousand followers - but its just exploded. Every one in two videos is about him at the moment. It's mad. I've not had to travel far but it was great to meet him and get a photo with him."
Regular Lee Vickers, 29, of Tamworth, added: "Spud man has put Tamworth well and truly on the map - it's unreal what he's doing for himself. He deserves all the success in the world. He always puts the graft in, he's a top guy and above all he sells top-quality hearty spuds."
Ben sports a trademark pink mohawk, which he got to raise money for kidney research, after having three failed kidney transplants himself. He said: "It's all been beyond my wildest dreams.”
TikTok helps provide billions to small businesses
A 2023 Oxford Economics report examined TikTok's impact on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the UK. It found that investments made by SMEs in advertising and marketing on the social media platform resulted in £1.2 billion in revenue in 2022. Among the different sectors, the food and beverage industry got the most benefit, accounting for £0.6 billion of the total revenue. Taking into account supply chain investments and the broader economic implications, the Gross Value Added (GVA) of SMEs on TikTok adds up to £1.63b of UK's GDP.
According to the report, TikTok's content algorithm is particularly advantageous for businesses, especially SMEs, as it assists users in discovering lesser-known brands based on their preferences. Users can learn about new products, services, and local attractions, which has a significant impact on real-world communities. These interactions produce economic value in several areas, the report says.