Recognised by consumers as a healthy treat, popcorn is outpacing the overall snacks market, with a growing selection of on-trend flavours to choose from
With popcorn the hottest thing in the supermarket snack aisle, any baker who hasn’t yet taken the popcorn plunge should be giving it a second look.
While accounting for only a small part of the crisps and snacks market, retail popcorn sales have soared by 12.3% in what is otherwise a flat category (Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 16 July).
Another sign of the excitement in the market is the number of big-name launches. Walkers’ owner Pepsico seriously ramped up its presence a year ago with the launch of Pop Works & Company. And Skinny Pop, one of the hottest brands in the US, recently entered the British market following the acquisition of Tyrrells Crisps by Skinny Pop owner Amplify Snack Brands.
While providing a healthier alternative to crisps is an important driver of the popcorn boom, there are many other factors at work – including demand for more interesting and natural snacking products.
“Health remains at the top of the agenda but shoppers increasingly want reassurance beyond ‘low and no’ claims around calories and fat,” says Cassandra Stavrou, co-founder of Propercorn. “People want to know the foods they’re eating are natural, contain simple cupboard ingredients and still taste great.”
And, when it comes to taste, that can mean innovative and on-trend flavours such as the Coconut & Chia Seed Popcorn and Chilli Chocolate Popcorn recently launched by the Joe & Seph’s brand.
While innovation ensures the popcorn market offers plenty of excitement, bakers planning to stock popcorn as part of their own snack range must remember the classics account for the bulk of sales.
“Retailers get excited by new flavour variants, but 80% of total sales come from four key flavours: sweet & salted; sweet; toffee; and salted – with sweet & salted representing 35% of total sales,” says Anjna Mistry, brand manager at Butterkist, which was acquired by KP Snacks this summer.
She adds there is plenty of room to grow the popcorn market, with only half the population buying popcorn.
“The fastest growing segment within popcorn is multipacks which suggests consumers are enjoying popcorn outside of its traditional shared occasion, as an everyday snack during lunch, or as a mid-afternoon snack to tide them over until dinner.”
For those bakers who don’t want to extend their current snack offer with popcorn – or don’t sell bagged snacks at all – popcorn also offers many opportunities as an ingredient or topping.
“Popcorn adds an exciting texture, intense taste and visual appeal when used as an ingredient,” says Joe & Seph’s co-founder Adam Sopher.
Butterkist has partnered with CSM Bakery Solutions to launch Butterkist Cookies in Sainsbury’s and, last month, rolled out Butterkist Toffee Popcorn and Chocolate Bites in Tesco.
Popcorn featured in many creations shown off on social media during National Cupcake Week last month, and retail bakery chain Muffin Break extended its Curious Creations range in the summer with the Big Top Muffin, combining caramel sauce, popcorn and a butterscotch muffin.
Little wonder that popcorn suppliers are confident about the future of the category.
“The opportunity within popcorn remains huge, with many shoppers experiencing popcorn as an everyday snack outside the cinema for the first time,” says Stavrou. “Popcorn is a familiar snack that everyone understands, and provides a vehicle for trend-led flavours.”
Consumers go nuts for nuts
While popcorn is currently the star performer of the retail bagged snacks market (see main article), nuts are also in strong growth compared to crisps and other savoury snacks.
Like popcorn, nuts are benefiting from consumer demand for healthier snacking options. They are also tapping interest in protein-rich plant-based food, which is associated with satiety, and weight and hunger management.
It’s a trend that has prompted dried fruit, nuts and seeds specialist RM Curtis to develop and expand its own Snacking Essentials range. The line-up was extended earlier this year, with 50g Shot Packs snacks and Duo Pots that combine two eating occasions in one pack and offer products such as edamame beans and cashews alongside dark chocolate cranberries
“Consumers are more aware than ever of health and wellbeing, and are looking for natural nutritious snacks that provide active health benefits,” says RM Curtis commercial controller Lynne Tempest. “They expect high-quality ingredients and want to enjoy the feeling of a snacking treat.”
Whitworths is also tapping consumer demand for nuts, and recently extended its Shots range with the launch of Shots Nuts, in flavours such as pistachios and jumbo peanuts with chilli almonds; and cashews and hazelnuts with salted caramel peanuts.