Growth in the popcorn category is being driven by new flavor innovations and new packaging sizes and formats. Hot and spicy microwave popcorn and cheddar jalapeño popcorn in family-size bags are just two examples. Expect to see more innovation in the near future.

Market data

According to IRI (Chicago) data from the past 52 weeks, which ended on May 18, 2022, the ready-to-eat popcorn/caramel corn category was up 12.1 percent with total sales of $1.8 billion.

Smartfoods Inc., a Frito-Lay brand, was the leader in this category, with $520 million in sales and a 10.8 percent increase. SkinnyPop took second with $401 million in sales and an increase of 24.4 percent. Angie’s Artisan Treats LLC took in $156 million in sales, an 8.8 percent increase.

Others to note in this category are Popcornopolis brand popcorn/caramel corn with an increase of 45.4 percent in sales, and Lesser Evil popcorn/caramel corn, with a 143.7 percent increase. G H Cretors, known for its caramel and cheese popcorn mixes, showed a 38.4 percent increase.

The microwave popcorn category held nearly steady (0.1 percent decline) with $1 billion in sales. Orville Redenbacher’s took the lead with $293 million. ACT II brought in $187 million, an increase of 6.9 percent, and private label popcorn claimed $116 million, a 1.7 percent decrease. SkinnyPop increased its sales by almost 30 percent to $32.2 million.


Looking back

The ready-to-eat popcorn category has been driven by tremendous innovation in flavors, according to Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics LLC, San Antonio, TX.

“I’ve noticed launches in conjunction with major candy brands, and launches that address big flavor trends such as sriracha or combining sweet and savory. Whether it’s a movie night at home or any other occasion, flavor adventures are always popular with consumers.”

Roerink sees similar trends in the pop-it-yourself segment, where many retailers are cross merchandising popcorn with a variety of topics and oils so people can create their own flavor adventures. “Because of the ability to upscale popcorn, it has been a popular gifting item as well, particularly around the holidays. As such, popcorn is a great example of taking a category and developing many usage occasions.”

From a pack-size perspective, multipacks have been the greatest drivers of growth in the ready-to eat popcorn category, contributing +$67 million in growth over the past year, says Caitlin Moralic, brand manager for SkinnyPop, part of The Hershey Company, Hershey, PA. “Family bags contributed a similar dollar growth number, just shy of +$66 million, as consumers opted to size up from core size bags. Many brands delivered new sizes to accommodate this larger size need of consumers. We’ve also seen the emergence of incremental, savory flavors, particularly those with elements of spice.”

In 2022, SkinnyPop introduced an 8-oz. Family Size item within its Original and White Cheddar flavors that is meant to continue expanding the multi-person ‘we’ eating occasion and provide value to consumers. “We’ve also launched a limited-time Cheddar Jalapeño 14-oz. item at Sam’s Club, which is designed to bring a bigger, more savory flavor to the SkinnyPop brand that delivers on the consumer’s need for incremental and bolder flavors.” SkinnyPop continues to explore ways to meet consumers on the right occasions as well as with different flavor experiences that don’t sacrifice nutrition or ingredients.

Conagra Brands, Chicago, has introduced a wide range of innovations across ready-to-eat and microwave popcorn, according to Joe Boesen, brand manager, popcorn. “Within our ACT II brand, we’ve expanded into ready-to-eat popcorn with the addition of a Butter Lover’s Ready-to-Eat version. Rolling out in early summer, we’ve renovated our Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP White Cheddar, perfecting the flavor, and adding new graphics to drive break-through at the retail shelf.”

Looking forward

The marketing momentum now and looking ahead is with ready-to-eat popcorn, which competes for shelf space with other popular offerings such as potato chips and pretzels, according to Roerink. Manufacturers and retailers will continue to make major inroads in flavor innovation, including limited time offers. “Online sales remain a big opportunity, especially given the impulse nature of the popcorn category.”

During the back half of 2022, Conagra will launch ACT II Hot & Spicy, a new microwave popcorn offering that delivers a spicy flavor. “Spicy flavors are essentially absent from the microwave popcorn category, so we’re excited to bring this to market,” Boesen says. “Also, across Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP and the better-for-you portfolio of Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn, we’re rolling out new graphics to amplify key attributes that consumers want, plus updating our count sizes to deliver more value.”

Innovative flavors will continue to fuel growth in the popcorn category, Boesen agrees. “Across both the ready-to-eat and microwave popcorn category, he expects to see even more flavor innovation in proven popcorn brands. “Growth in this category will be driven by new flavor innovation and new packaging sizes and formats. As inflation continues to impact consumer spending, growth will come from innovation and core items that offer consumers value and convenience. The greatest challenge will include evolving consumer trends, changing shopping behaviors and shifts to new channels such as eCommerce.

Manufacturers will need to continue to create new popcorn offerings that meet the continually evolving, sophisticated tastes of consumers, according to Moralic. “We also see the emergence of growth in all salty snacking from younger generations, especially those who are just now entering the family life stage. In regards to challenges, the popcorn category will continue to see supply chain disruption caused by challenges with commodities.”

Source: IRI Market Advantage, Integrated Fresh, Total U.S. - Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), 52 Weeks Ending 04-17-22