According to new research on snacking motivations from Mintel, consumers are most   likely to enjoy popcorn while watching TV or a movie at home (62 percent). But convenience is the name of the game. Mintel notes that popcorn’s versatility as a sweet or salty, ready-to-eat or poppable snack means it’s versatile enough for any time consumers want to treat themselves (37 percent) or want something healthy (19 percent).


Market data

Popcorn’s popularity continues. According to data from IRI, Chicago, sales of ready-to-eat popcorn/caramel corn grew 5.00 percent in dollar sales over the course of the 52 weeks ending April 22, 2018, reaching over $1.34 billion. Top performers included offerings from PepsiCo/Frito-Lay business unit Smartfood, which overall grew 10.58 percent to reach $456.5 million in sales and nearly 30 percent market share. SkinnyPop, now a Hershey Co. brand, grew 3.87 percent to reach $235.1 million in sales. Angie’s Artisan Treats, which Conagra Brands acquired in 2017, grew 43.44 percent to reach $110.4 million in sales.

Microwave popcorn posted a 3.40 percent sales decline over the course of the year, accounting for $754.7 million. Segment leader Conagra Brands grew 1.11 percent to $334.9 million thanks to a strong performance from its Orville Redenbacher’s brand, which put in a stunning performance, up 71.56 percent to $114.8 million. The Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet brand was also up, gaining 11.73 percent to $19.2 million.

SkinnyPop had a strong entrance to the microwave popcorn segment, taking in $10.7 million since its launch in February 2017.


Looking back

“Flavor innovations, development of new package sizes, and expanding distribution in various retail channels are all contributing to the growth in the category,” says Matt Haas, director of sales, Palo Foods, Inc., Sheboygan Falls, WI. “The emergence of snacking behavior in general, supplemented by the healthy attributes of ready-to-eat popcorn, are certainly helping to drive growth in the popcorn category.”

Ready-to-eat popcorn has a positive health perception, which has contributed to its growth—especially as snacking occasions expand. “Popcorn serves as a particularly permissible snack, given its low calorie count and long-lasting munch, making it a great option for consumers across a wide variety of these daily snacking occasions,” says Tracy Kitanovski, manager of brand insights, Conagra Brands, Chicago, IL.

“From a behavioral standpoint, snacking is now a part of everyday life,” says Haas. And people are looking for permissible, better-for-you snacks to fill their day.

Many popcorn brands continue to capitalize on this better-for-you notion with cleaner labels. Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn has been reformulated to include no artificial preservatives, flavors, or dyes. Conagra is also launching a microwavable option from Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP in a fresh-pop bowl with simple ingredients.

The issue of increased snacking occasions is also impacting flavor trends in popcorn, as brands look to make this traditionally salty snack a little sweeter. “Having products that match up to different snacking occasions is critical, and popcorn tends to currently either be a big bag of salt flavor, or caramel corn in the sweet space,” says Kitanovski.

To bridge the gap, Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP recently extended its line of drizzled ready-to-eat popcorn to include flavors like Dark Chocolaty Drizzled Sea Salt Kettle Corn, Milk Chocolaty Peanut Butter Flavored Kettle Corn, and Cinnamon Roll Drizzled Flavored Kettle Corn.

But—as we have seen across all salty snacks—hot and spicy flavors are also driving growth in popcorn. Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP blends sweet with spicy in its Chile Lime Flavored Popcorn.

Palo Foods is also leveraging its core competency in gourmet Cheddar varieties to bring its fans a bit of spice. “Our Mexican Street Corn Flavor was developed as Mexican street corn emerged last year as a popular item with street vendors, festivals, and state fair events across the country,” says Haas. The product features notes of sour cream, garlic, lime and mild heat on a Cheddar cheese base.


Looking forward

The challenge going forward, explains Haas, is that brands and manufacturers must ensure that their offerings do not become repetitive. In order to maintain growth, popcorn producers need to appeal to many of the category’s segments, including health and wellness, savory, sweet, gourmet and indulgent. Without variety across the segments on the shelf, the category runs the risk of becoming fragmented. “The key to sustaining growth will be to capture incremental sales, and not simply trade consumers from one popcorn brand to another,” he explains.

Despite a bit of a slowdown over the past year, the popcorn category is expected to remain strong moving forward.

“Category trends will remain strong with a healthy halo around popcorn in general and the continuous innovation sure to be offered, especially with multiple large CPG companies having recently entered the category,” says Haas. “Competition for points of interruption and share of wallet will be fierce from a manufacturer standpoint but, in the end, the category and the consumer will benefit.”