The ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn market has exploded over the past few years. According to data from IRI, Chicago, RTE popcorn was up 12.67 percent in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 24, 2016 to $1.1 billion. Products ranging from simple and calorie-controlled to downright dessert-like have demonstrated a broad range of appeal.

While RTE is booming, microwave popcorn sales have fallen of late. Our most-recent look at that segment in early 2016 showed a slight drop over the past year, with sales hitting $980.6 million (a number that includes kernel popcorn, popcorn oil and microwave popcorn).

Current interest in clean label might have something to do with that decline. Many RTE popcorn products have easier avenues to clean-label products, often with a highly simplified ingredient statement. Historically, microwave popcorn has not offered that advantage.

That’s where Quinn Snacks comes in. The company has introduced a game-changing microwave popcorn line that seeks to bring more people back into the fold. Flavor varieties include the traditional Real Butter & Sea Salt, but also adventuresome takes like Vermont Maple & Sea Salt and Parmesan & Rosemary. Quinn also offers RTE products, and even pretzels. On the RTE side, flavor options similarly range from simple to sublime, including Classic Sea Salt, Organic Coconut Oil, California Olive Oil, White Cheddar and Kale & Sea Salt.

These are products that are clean-label and non-GMO, and the RTE popcorn products even offer “farm-to-bag” transparency, an approach that’s sure to resonate with shopper demographics increasingly concerned about every aspect of their food.

With popcorn and pretzels under its belt, don’t be surprised if Quinn Snacks continues to shake-up other snack categories with its unique brand of clean-label product formulation.

In order to learn more about Quinn Snacks and its philosophy of clean-label snacking, I reached out to Kristy Homes-Lewis, co-founder and CEO of the company.


Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: How has the popcorn market changed within the past five years?

Kristy Homes-Lewis: It’s becoming more sophisticated and indulgent. Companies are taking risks on flavor profiles, pushing the limit on what they can do, and creating unusual flavor combinations.


DJP: What are shoppers looking for in ready-to-eat popcorn products today?

KHL: Consumers view popcorn as a whole-grain snack, so they feel good about eating it. What they don’t realize is that most other flavored, ready-to-eat popcorn products contain fillers, natural flavorings and are high in sugar.


DJP: Please describe some of the innovations that went into your microwave popcorn products.

KHL: We are the first and only ones on the market to use a microwave popcorn bag stripped of all chemicals and coatings. We only use compostable paper. ​Our pour-over oil and seasoning packets allow us to use healthy oils and whole-food ingredients. That means no fillers, artificial or natural flavorings. Purely food. This is a microwave popcorn first. Plus, it’s way more hands-on and fun to make!


DJP: What is your definition of “clean label”?

KHL: Sourcing from suppliers who are aligned with our mission, whole ingredients as much as possible, and organic when done right.


DJP: What inspired your “farm-to-bag” popcorn?

KHL: I wanted to know everything about the ingredients we were sourcing. More importantly, I wanted to make sure we were sourcing from those who believed in what we were doing and who were aligned in our mission. Knowing where your food comes from, who is growing it and who is making it is critical to creating a better food system. We question everything, challenge everyone and push ourselves and others to create simple and clean food. I felt so strongly about gathering this information, I wanted to make sure that our customers could dig in as well. Transparency is in everything that I do, so it was essential that we put our Farm-to-Bag transparency policy in place at Quinn.


DJP: Do you face any challenges in terms of ingredient sourcing?

KHL: ALL THE TIME. We find suppliers willing to tell us everything, but there are also suppliers who are not willing to share anything. We walk when the latter happens, because we don’t want to compromise. But that limits our sourcing options and forces us to go back to square one. We have to turn down an ingredient supplier when we don't believe in what they are doing or how they are manufacturing an ingredient. But we also push suppliers to grow better ingredients and make better food.


DJP: How do you come up with your product concepts?

KHL: I am a mom to three boys. Packing lunches and snacks pushes me to innovate in this space. I only create snacks that I would feel good about feeding to them. However, if they don't eat it, I know it won't work in the market!


DJP: Quinn Snacks has tackled popcorn and pretzels. Do you plan to expand into any other snack categories?

KHL: Already working on it! ;)