Fun and Flavorful

The popcorn category has been growing for the past several years primarily because it appeals to health-conscious consumers who desire a better-for-you snacking experience.

“Popcorn is a permissible indulgence like snack bars,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader, client insights, IRI. “It naturally delivers fiber, nutrition, simple ingredients and fun flavor profiles like sweet, savory and combinations.”

Popcorn is convenient and appeals to clean label consumers. It is available everywhere from airports and office supply stores to c-stores and ballparks.

Ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn earned more than $1.1 billion with 4.4% growth for the 52 weeks ending June 10, 2018, according to IRI. Frito-Lay, Plano, TX, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, and its Smartfoods popcorn had the most dollar sales growing 11.4%, with Amplify Snack Brands’ SkinnyPop a close second.

“The ready-to-eat popcorn category is growing, and we see a consistent increase in on-the-go consumption. Being at the epicenter of this trend with a product consumers love, trust and enjoy, is a win-win,” said Pamela Finer, vice-president of marketing, Amplify Snack Brands, Austin, TX.

Concerns about health and wellness are at the forefront of consumer demands for the snack industry. These evolving trends and snacking narratives have shaped product innovation.

“The popcorn category growth has been driven by consumers who are more affluent, female, health-focused and looking for a healthier snack,” said Jeremy Bjork, chief marketing officer, Wise Foods, Atlanta. “However, current trends are showing that better-for-you is too broad to categorize health and wellness claims for all consumers.”

Healthy attributes are not a one-size-fits-all scenario for snacks. Consumers dieting or trying to lose weight are looking for reduced fat and calories and more protein. At the same time, older consumers may be concerned about sodium levels while younger demographics are looking for non-GMO, organic or gluten free.

Amplify Snacks took note of the surge in consumer desire for high-protein snacks but understood that despite the added benefit, it still had to taste great. SkinnyPop Popcorn+Protein provides 5 g protein per serving, the equivalent of a handful of almonds. It is Non-GMO Project verified and gluten free and contains no artificial ingredients.

Wise Sea Salt Popcorn from Wise Foods has 47 Cal per cup. It’s visually satisfying and makes the consumer feel like they are having more for less, according to the 

Frito-Lay features Smartfood Delights Popcorn, which offers 50% less fat, 100% whole grains and 35 Cal per cup. This better-for-you variety comes in Sea Salted Caramel, Chipotle-Aged Cheddar and Rosemary & Olive Oil flavor formats.

The Good Health brand from Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, PA, offers an air-popped popcorn, only 37 Cal per cup. Organic Half Naked features flavors including Sea Salt, Olive Oil and spicy Wild Buffalo Blue.

With these low calorie counts, popcorn delivers a healthier snack choice while watching a movie or at work. RTE popcorn is perfectly positioned as a permissible indulgence because two to three cups of flavored popcorn doesn’t come with the calorie or fat content of more indulgent snacks.

“Popcorn is a quiet, guilt-free indulgence perfect for mindless munching occasions,” Mr. Bjork said.

The appeal of international flavors, and their health benefits, is also growing. For example, Masala Pop Savory Coconut Popcorn launched by 4 Him Food Group, Junction City, OR, is made with turmeric and organic extra virgin coconut oil. GlobalData’s 2017 consumer survey reported that 50% of US consumers believe turmeric positively impacts their health.

Cheese is a perennial favorite among popcorn eaters. Epic Source Food Co., Frisco, TX, distributes Goat Cheddar Cheese Popcorn under the Funny Farm label. It is popped in coconut oil and made with handmade goat cheddar cheese, which creates a premium perception.

Pop Secret dominates the microwave popcorn segment, earning more than $136 million, according to IRI. “Pop Secret is challenging the microwave popcorn space,” said George Vindiola, vice-president, R&D, Campbell Snacks, Norwalk, CT. “To compete, brands are looking at clean-label ingredients and convenience in this mature category.”

SkinnyPop popcorn is a snacking favorite when looking for healthy options. Previously purchased solely as an RTE item, consumers can now microwave SkinnyPop in a chemical-free box that facilitates cleaner eating with no mess.

Through packaging, brand recognition and healthy callouts, popcorn in microwavable and RTE forms finds success in the market.