Member Spotlight: Spud Man

Spud Man

We all love a good jacket potato, it’s a cornerstone of British cuisine. Many a fond childhood memory has been precipitated by the scoffing of a piping hot spud loaded with beans and cheese (the only correct filling in this writer’s humble opinion).

Jacket potato vendors are town staples, integral parts of the landscape serving as reminders of winters gone by, lunch breaks in a hurry and ‘oh go on then’ treats you didn’t think your Mum would actually say yes to. And yet, despite their visibility, there is a certain level of inconspicuousness to the local potato van. We know they’re there, they always have been, but in a post-covid world where high streets and town centres are no longer the bustling marketplaces of old, how does the humble potato van recement itself as a staple?

The answer; a pink mohawk, dynamic personality and a generous dose of that special secret sauce, TikTok. Ben Newman, or The Spud Man as he is affectionately known by his 2.4 million TikTok followers, has managed to bring the humble spud into the 21st century, modernising the image of the jacket potato vendor and growing a massive following as he does so. To paraphrase a classic Marks & Spencer’s advert, this is no ordinary potato. And yet, it is and therein lies the charm.

Ben has done the seemingly impossible and garnered 2.4 million people going crazy for his spuds; but it’s not just about the potatoes. Ben himself will be the first to admit his surprise at his TikTok fame, but his infectious personality, hard-driven community values and seemingly heat-proof hands are a charismatic recipe for a viral whirlwind.

An NCASS member since 2003, Ben’s journey to TikTok Spud Man fame and the formation of his Spud Army all began with his son. ‘My eldest lad was on [TikTok] and we made a couple of silly videos together. I think it was my third video that got half a million views and it just opened my eyes to the possibilities.’

And those possibilities are seemingly endless! From radio interviews with the BBC, to collaborations with Drayton Manor; from raising over £10,000 for Kidney Research, to having people fly from all over the world to see him, Ben has reintroduced the potato to the world of social media. Many may look at this seemingly overnight sensation and easily miss Ben’s 20 years’ experience in the industry, but this experience has no doubt served him well. Not only does it mean that he can easily serve customers en masse, he knows how to spot and implement innovation.

Tradition can often become a double-edged sword and staying true to one’s roots shouldn’t always mean refusing to change with the times. Ben has found a way to create something new on TikTok, completely infusing the spud shaped staple at the core of what he does. ‘The whole jacket potato industry has been stuck in its ways for a few years now, there’s not been much innovation with it. It’s a classic, we don’t want to change it just for the sake of it, but town centres aren’t what they used to be.’ TikTok may be a fickle mistress, but it still takes a certain charm to woo her and that charm lies with Ben. He’s elevated perceptions, but he’s managed to do so without overcomplicating that simple carbohydrate.

‘It’s a jacket potato at the end of the day, it’s cheap food, it’s not meant to be some £15 gourmet smashed burger that you treat yourself to once a month. This is everyday food, for the masses, it shouldn’t be too out there.’ This is no SpudULike á la James Martin where the jacket potato is modernised beyond recognition this is a refreshing humility that has not once wavered as the millions of followers grew.

Known for using his platform to shout out other potato vendors and local businesses in Tamworth, The Spud Man is very much a man of the people. ‘You can get a good jacket potato anywhere and I say this to people all the time, go and support your local jacket potato van.’ It’s not often that one treks to try the latest TikTok favoured scran to be told to support your local business back home. ‘I love Tamworth to pieces, but the council are really poor at marketing it as a touristy place so I’ve kind of taken it upon myself to show it off. I want my van to still be where it is in 10 years’ time and if Tamworth town centre isn’t there, neither am I.’

So what advice would Ben give to those looking to emulate his success on TikTok? ‘TikTok is all about consistency and persistency, it’s that stupid. It’s not necessarily quality so don’t worry about having the perfect polished post, just post a lot! Something will stick and then you will find your niche. You’ll find what works and then just post, post, post. You don’t have to have thousands of thousands of followers to get views, that’s the good thing about it. If your content is engaging TikTok will push it out to people.’

There is something deliciously paradoxical about Ben’s success on TikTok. Whilst it has played a monumental role in his popularity, it hasn’t seen him outprice his customer base. Though it has led to offers to franchise across the country, he’s happy where he is, championing Tamworth and local businesses so they can share in his success. This paradox applies to TikTok’s role in Ben’s life as well. With kidney failure and weekly dialysis impacting his ability to travel, Ben had already made the choice to downsize his business.

Downsizing and focusing on social media provides him a surprising respite that he has rarely seen in his 20 years trading. TikTok might have bought the world to Ben’s pink mohawk shaped doorstep, but it’s his love for his community and determination to share something positive that keeps his spuds roasting.


Find out more about Spud Man here, and follow his journey here.

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