Northern Irish bakery brand Ooh & Ahh Cookies has harnessed the unique, and somewhat exclusive, commercial power of TikTok to help double its turnover in the past year.

Founders Ruth Armstrong and Barbara-Anne McMullan and their team have been posting regular videos of their products and packaging as well as conducting live QVC-style broadcasts. These have given rise to an ever-increasing amount of orders made directly through the social media platform’s integrated marketplace, TikTok Commerce.

Founders Ruth Armstrong and Barbara-Anne McMullan visit TikTok UK headquarters in London

Source: Ooh & Ahh Cookies

Founders Barbara-Anne McMullan (left) and Ruth Armstrong were invited to visit TikTok UK headquarters in London in September last year

The indulgent sweet treat brand – which was launched in 2015 in Ballyclare, County Antrim – had initially embraced Facebook and Instagram marketing, even winning the ‘Best Use of Instagram’ category at the 2022 NI Social Media Awards. That same year, an emerging trend in what was then called TikTok Shopping piqued its interest.

Ooh & Ahh Cookies progressed to become one of just a handful of officially verified food vendors on TikTok in August 2022. “They limit it because of food safety restrictions and making sure everybody adheres [to them], so we were quite lucky that we got in when we did,” reveals McMullan.

The ecommerce solution, which takes a 5% commission from each sale, is still in its pilot programme stage and currently only available in the UK, the US, and select markets in Southeast Asia – it is expected to launch in Spain in the coming months.

Merchants must set up an account via the TikTok Seller Centre web portal, submitting required business documents for verification and binding a bank account.

Ooh & Ahh’s videos have simply been “done on the old iPhone,” says Armstrong, with one of their uploads from October 2022 (part two of creating a marbled milk and white chocolate ‘cookie pie’) garnering 23.7 million views to date.

@oohandaahtiktok Part 2……. This was the first time we tried this and it turned out EPIC #cookiepie #bakinghack #oohaah #oohandaahcookies #kinderpie #hack #marbledeffect #fyp #FlexEveryAngle #foryourpage ♬ Chiquitita x Twilight - twibytez

TikTok sales have grown rapidly in the months since, which Ooh & Ahh attributes to its strong branding and close customer engagement via chat. Impressively, it now accounts for the majority (60%) of the company’s total revenue, estimated to have hit £1.2 million between April and December 2023, up from around half that amount taken during the year prior. With another three months left in the current financial period, Ooh & Ahh expects to report a turnover of £1.6m.

Among its product range that includes signature stuffed cookies and giant cookie cards with personalised messages in icing, it was the Dinky Dunkers – mini cookies with sweet dipping sauces – that really ‘went viral’ in April 2023. Ooh & Ahh claims to have sold over 23,000 boxes of Dunky Dunkers via TikTok alone, with more than 15,000 boxes also shifted through its website.

Dinky Dippers by Ooh & Ahh Cookies

Source: Ooh & Ahh Cookies

Dinky Dunkers

Limited edition seasonal ranges have also proven to be super popular, offering variety to both new and return customers. Ooh & Ahh is presently gearing up for Valentine’s Day, then straight into Mother’s Day, Easter, and Father’s Day. “This is the real heavy end of the year till the summertime,” comments Armstrong, adding that the company would also be adding some other “limited edition bits and pieces to keep everybody sweet”.

In addition to its ecommerce capabilities, TikTok has been touted as an increasingly important place to find cake trends (as noted in our Top Cake Trends 2024 report). Other sweet bakery brands such as doughnut specialist Project D have also seen the virality of their TikTok videos help grow their business.

Armstrong and McMullan had both been passionate home bakers (“self-confessed cookie mumsters” as they put it), with McMullan bringing her knowledge of food safety after 12 years as an environmental health officer, and Armstrong graduating with a degree in business management.

They had also previously launched a sweet bakery brand called Little Treats, producing the likes of cakes, cupcakes, and cake pops for farmers markets and catered events such as weddings. However, they had been left frustrated by the trading conditions, especially the amount of food waste created by unsold items. On one occasion – when the “Northern Ireland weather was not on our side”, recalls McMullan – a storm suddenly hit their outdoor market stall, wrecking their gazebo, packaging, and products.

Armstrong and McMullan produce and star in Ooh & Ahh Cookies' live TikTok videos

Source: Ooh & Ahh Cookies

Armstrong and McMullan produce and star in Ooh & Ahh Cookies’ live TikTok videos

Compounded with busy home lives raising young families, the duo decided to step back from Little Treats and it’s seven-day work schedule in November 2019 to focus purely on the Ooh & Ahh Cookies brand. With everything made to order, the online bakery was a more controllable, streamlined, efficient, and scalable production model for the mothers to manage.

What lies ahead

Roughly 70% of Ooh & Ahh Cookies customers are in England, Scotland and Wales, with just 25% based locally in Northern Ireland and 5% in the Republic of Ireland, according to McMullan. In discussing international expansion, McMullan notes that “America is probably our first port of call” due to it having TikTok Commerce already.

Ooh & Ahh's signature stuffed cookies featuring branded chocolate bar toppings and fillings

Source: Ooh & Ahh Cookies

Signature stuffed cookies feature branded chocolate bar toppings and fillings

The Ooh & Ahh brand is said to be all about the product experience, whereby customers can get a home delivery and “literally pop open the packet and pop it in their month”. As such, it doesn’t intend to freeze products for a standard two-week dispatch across the Atlantic, but is now trialling a newly-discovered three-day delivery service to guarantee freshness upon arrival.

To help produce some more polished adverts and content, Ooh & Ahh Cookies has taken on Belfast creative agency Life Like Media Marketing in the past month. Its website is also scheduled to undergo an update to address some functionality issues and cope with the increased volume of trade.

Despite running at capacity with current staff at the 5,000 sq ft production unit in Hagan Business Park, a few miles out of Ballyclare town in County Antrim, McMullan affirms there is still “lots of room for growth”. However, the company is keen not to expand too quickly, preferring to ensure quality is maintained, and learning from production limits last year to help predict when the right time would be to hire new employees. The founders say they are also hesitant to add a night shift team to their daytime workforce of 10 people, instead looking towards purchasing additional commercial units in the same location “within the next two years”.