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Our 2013 State of the Industry report on snacks focuses on new snack products, the perspective of snack manufacturers and product leaders and market sales.
The popcorn category is awash with flavors and formulations. Popcorn enthusiasts may even have a hard time deciding this summer which option to dive into first.
Popcorn is a robust snack category. With new products and new companies joining the market every year, vendors must find ways to make their snacks stand out in the already full popcorn pool. While butter and salt are nice, manufacturers recognize that the way to make sales waves is with bold and unique flavors.
479˚, a gourmet popcorn manufacturer based in San Francisco, offers classic popcorn varieties like Heirloom Popcorn + Sea Salt and Creamery Butter, but has expanded its options to more innovative offerings. “We launched a new line of big, beautiful snack bags as well as a range of flavors,” says Virginia Stout, marketing and brand associate. “New flavors include Toasted Coconut Caramel; Chipotle Caramel + Pumpkin Seeds; Pumpkin Pecan Praline; and White Cheddar + Black Truffle.”
The company’s website also mentions Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt; Dark Chocolate + Peppermint; Seaweed + Toasted Sesame; Sea Salt Caramel; Chipotle Caramel + Almonds; Ginger Sesame Caramel; Madras Curry Coconut + Cashews; Vietnamese Cinnamon Sugar; Fleur de Sel Caramel; Farmers Market Herbs; and Pimentón de la Vera, a paprika-tomato-and-onion-flavored popcorn, as additional options.
Along with unique, gourmet flavor options, popcorn manufacturers are also paying close attention to the all-natural trend.
“All of our popcorns are made from organic, heirloom, nonGenetically Modified Organisms (GMO) corn, are certified gluten-free and contain no trans-fat,” says Stout.
“Consumers have become much more aware of unnatural and nonGMO ingredients and are demanding healthier and tastier alternatives,” says David Israel, CEO of POP! Gourmet Popcorn, Seattle.
The company is not ignoring the unique flavor trend, however. Its flavor lineup features Chocolate Salted Caramel Popcorn; White Truffle Bliss; Maui Waui Popcorn; Tuxedo Popcorn; Cookies and Cream Popcorn; Butter Toffee with Almond Roca; Chicago Style Popcorn; Ultra Premium Caramel Popcorn Spiced Caramel with Cashews Popcorn; White Cheddar Popcorn; Gourmet Cheddar Popcorn; Cascade Mix Popcorn; and Rogue Blue Popcorn.
“Rogue Blue is made with tender, crunchy white popcorn blended with the intensely flavorful, internationally award-winning Rogue Blue Cheese from Rogue Creamery,” states Israel.
More recently, the company has added Fire Corn Jalapeno Popcorn—popcorn infused with real jalapeno spices—and a Rub with Love Popcorn line to its offerings. “Rub with Love Popcorn comes in three varieties—African Peri Peri; Chinese 12-Spice; and Smoky Barbeque and Northwest Cheddar,” explains Israel.
Ethnic flavors make a splash
Many companies are turning to international flavors as inspiration for new popcorn offerings. Metropolitan Bakery, Philadelphia, is one of them.
“We take Indian flavors like curry and cayenne and mix them with caramel and peanut flavors and we have a complex, sophisticated and not-overly sweet flavor that really works,” notes James Barrett, head baker and co-owner. Barrett is referring to the company’s Spiced Peanut Butter option that accompanies Bourbon-Infused and Stout with Smoked Almonds popcorn varieties of its handmade popcorn line.
While some manufacturers are only dabbling in ethnic flavors, Punjabi Popcorn, Old Bridge, N.J., is anchored on them. “I started developing my company and its brand in March 2013, so every flavor we have is brand new and unique,” states owner Deepak Kanda. “We believe that using quality, exotic ingredients to create complex flavors with great depths makes us contend with any other gourmet popcorn out there.”
The popcorn newcomer offers eight all-natural popcorn options: Butter; Tumeric; Jeera; Spicy Curry; Extra Hot Desi Merch; Desi Merch; Indian Caramel; and Signature Punjabi, which Kanda says is his choice for a poolside snack. “This flavor encompasses a citrus note in conjunction with some heat from cayenne peppers and a robust and bold combination of things like mango powder and black salt,” he explains. “This flavor will definitely have you reaching for a cool drink and a refreshing dip in the pool.”
One doesn’t need to travel overseas to find unique popcorn flavors. A Waterloo, Wis., company found its inspiration from its core product: Pickles.
“The consumers’ drive for bolder, more unique flavors drove us to get into popcorn,” states Steve Byrnes, president of Van Holten’s Pickles. “We took the same dill flavoring from our pickles and added it to our pickle popcorn. Consumer response has been overwhelming…they love it!”
While the popcorn category is full of competitors, Byrnes believes the individuality of his Big Papa Dill Pickle popcorn is enough to set it apart, especially this summer. “Poolside with your beverage of choice and a bag of Big Papa Dill Pickle Popcorn sounds pretty tempting to me!” he exclaims.
Better-for-you poolside snacking
Another way popcorn manufacturers are making their products more innovative is with ingredients. Though cheddar may not seem very unique for a popcorn variety, it is quite interesting for vegan popcorn. Earth Balance, Boulder, Colo., has created Vegan Aged White Cheddar popcorn, the first vegan cheddar popcorn on the market.
“Earth Balance Plant-Based Snacks are positioned to compete in the natural snack set, as they are made with natural and organic ingredients, free from genetically modified ingredients,” says Adriane Little, marketing manager. “It is our goal to sit apart from the crowd by offering natural and organic alternatives that do not yet exist within the category.” The company also offers a Buttery Flavor popcorn and P.B. Popps, a peanut-butter-and-oat-coated popcorn snack.
“Any of the Earth Balance Plant-Based Snacks are perfect for poolside snacking—from our Buttery Flavor Popcorn to Aged White Cheddar Flavor Popcorn…all Earth Balance Snacks offer a tasty addition to any scenario,” states Little.
The Popcorn Factory, Lake Forest, Ill., also has been exploring new ways to use cheese flavors with popcorn. “The Popcorn Factory launches new flavors on a monthly basis,” says Alan Petrik, COO. “Our R&D department is constantly testing and developing new and exciting high-end, gourmet flavors such as Double Cheese, Cheesy Jalapeno and Butter Toffee Crunch with Sea Salt, to name a few.”
To name a few more, The Popcorn Factory offers classics like Butter; Caramel; White Cheddar; Sea Salt Slim; and Kettle Corn. It’s also experimenting with more unique savory flavors like Buffalo Ranch and Cracked Pepper and sweeter options including Peanut Brittle; Almond Pecan; Butter Toffee Almond; Toasted Coconut; Cranberry; Cinnamon; and Sour Green Apple.
And for consumers looking for a little bit of decadence, the company has a chocolate line with options including Chocolate Drizzle; Dark Chocolate Sea Salt; and S’mores. Shoppers will have to wait to order these sweet treats, however. According to the company’s website, the chocolate flavors are on summer vacation until September.
“The outlook for The Popcorn Factory and the snack industry is strong,” states Petrik. “We see strong growth opportunities as our customers are ready and demanding more high-end, gourmet flavors and flavor combinations.”
Ready-made and on-the-go
The ready-to-eat popcorn market is so prominent that manufacturers specializing in microwave popcorn are getting into the game. Orville Redenbacher’s, owned by ConAgra Foods of Omaha, Neb., has entered into the pre-popped segment with its new Pop Crunch product.
“The introduction of popcorn in a ready-to-eat, on-the-go packaging format is a relatively new innovation for Orville Redenbacher’s, so we think this new format will address [consumers’] demand for convenient snacks,” states Dan Skinner, public relations and social media manager. “Pop Crunch has half the fat of regular potato chips and is a gluten-free snack. It is available in four flavors: Brown Sugar Cinnamon; White and Sharp Cheddar; Caramel; and Cheddar and Parmesan Herb.”
Convenience is key when it comes to poolside snacking. FunkyChunky, Edina, Minn., creates a variety of popcorn mixes in convenient canisters to satisfy consumers’ summertime cravings for something sweet and savory.
“FunkyChunky is the perfect poolside-themed product,” says Tore Swenson, director of sales and marketing. “Our canisters have a screw-on lid that keeps the product safe from moisture and spilling. The sweet and saltiness of the product meets any craving during a day of fun in the sun.”
Though the company has not introduced any new options in the past six months, it offers a wide array of sweet-and-savory varieties from which to choose: Chocolate Popcorn; Caramel Corn; Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn; Candy Cane Popcorn; and Ronni’s Popcorn—a mix of popcorn, caramel, chocolate, almonds, cashews and pecans dedicated to the founder and creator of FunkyChunky, Ronni Feuer. Ten percent of the sales of Ronni’s Popcorn are donated to the Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation.
Because of the sweet-and-savory nature of FunkyChunky’s products, they can be positioned in various categories–snack, candy and even bakery with the inclusion of some of its pretzel products.
Mixing it up
Popcorn mixes are a big part of the popcorn segment. It’s a way to bring unique flavor options to consumers along with ingredients other than just popcorn. G.H. Cretors, Waukegan, Ill., offers a Caramel Nut Crunch option, a mix of caramel corn, almonds and cashews, and Chicago Mix, made with cheddar and caramel popcorn.
“We’ve never seen growth like this,” states Claire Cretors, president, of the popcorn market. “Our Chicago Mix has been very well received, and we are seeing very healthy growth. G.H. Cretors offers three other options for consumers who might not be interested in mixing it up with their popcorn: Just the Caramel Corn; Just the Cheese Corn; and Kettle Corn.
Kettle corn is an original when it comes to sweet-and-savory offerings for popcorn. It’s also a summer classic and can usually be found at festivals, carnivals and poolsides.
Gaslamp Popcorn, a subsidiary of Rudolph Foods, Lima, Ohio, offers a Kettle Corn option that consumers can enjoy year-round.
“All Gaslamp Popcorn is handmade in small batches, using only all-natural pure cane sugar, canola oil and nonGMO corn,” reports Mark Singleton, vice president of sales and marketing.
The company’s newest additions, White Cheddar and Caramel Corn, round out its offerings of ready-to-eat popcorn, all at only 150 calories. “Gaslamp Popcorn is the perfect anytime snack, especially around the pool,” says Singleton. “Portable and light, popcorn satisfies your snacking need without weighing you down.”
Swimsuit bulge busters
Lower-calorie options are important to consumers when picking the perfect poolside snack. Oogie’s Snacks, LLC, Denver, has developed a line of Lite options for this consumer segment. “This has allowed us to offer popcorn products with less than 40 calories per cup,” says Eric Their, president. “Everything is gluten-free, of course, and uses nonGMO oils and corn. These items are just getting ready to roll out now.”
While consumers are waiting for Oogie’s Lite line, they can enjoy its other flavorful popcorn options: Cracked Pepper and Asiago; Spicy Chipotle and Lime; Smoked Gouda; Sun-Dried Tomato and Parmesan; White Cheddar; Hatch Chili Con Queso; Movie Lovers Buttered Popcorn; and Kettle Corn.
Another company exploring its “lite” side is JOLLY TIME Pop Corn, Sioux City, Iowa. It’s Butter and Butter Light Microwave Pop Corn products are made with a Smart Balance blend of oils, resulting in a lighter product.
“Our partnerships with Weight Watchers as well as Smart Balance clearly convey ‘better-for-you’ products since both Weight Watchers and Smart Balance have strong brand recognition,” states Garrett Smith, president. Many of JOLLY TIME’s offerings come with a lighter counterpart. Consumers have their choice of Blast O Butter Light; Butter Light; 100-calorie options of Healthy Pop Butter Flavor; Kettle Corn; and Low Sodium varieties and 94% fat-free Healthy Pop Butter Flavor; Kettle Corn; Caramel Apple; and Crispy White Naturally Flavored popcorn.
POP! Gourmet Popcorn, meanwhile, offers a POP! lite series that is air-popped and has 40 calories per cup.
The flavor of summer this year is choice, and popcorn manufacturers are serving up plenty of options for consumers. Whether they’re seeking unique flavors or healthier formulations, consumers can spend every poolside day trying something new.