Sales of ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn in the US have grown by 118% between 2012 and 2017 as consumers embrace flavour innovation, according to research from Mintel.
In total, the US RTE popcorn market is worth $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, total retail sales of popcorn increased 32% in the last five years to reach an estimated $2.5 billion in 2017.
Mintel says that with the pre-popped convenience of RTE popcorn offering a medium for a range of flavours and toppings, consumers today are interested in flavour innovation – both familiar and unexpected – in the popcorn category.
While traditional varieties like cheese-flavoured and indulgent (such as chocolate or caramel) are high on the list, popcorn buyers are also interested in purchasing options that are mixed flavour, have additions mixed in (such as dried cranberries or candy) and have seasonal flavours (pumpkin spice, gingerbread).
John Owen, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said: “Popcorn sales have been on the rise in recent years and now the category is shifting from traditional flavours toward more dynamic flavours and combinations, driven by the ready-to-eat segment which has seen sales more than double since 2012.
“RTE popcorn brands are finding success not only through an expanding array of creative new flavours, but also by tapping into growing interest in healthy, natural and portable snacks and eating occasions.
“The popcorn segment, and RTE popcorn in particular, is likely to continue benefiting from a generally healthy image as well as its suitability as a medium for a wide range of flavours and toppings.
“As such, there is an opportunity for brands in other salty snack segments to innovate with unexpected flavours to engage consumers, especially among younger generations who, our research shows, are looking for variety in the salty snack aisle.”
Brands which have innovated in the flavoured popcorn category include PepsiCo-owned Smartfood, which launched a spicy jalapeño ranch flavour popcorn as it also aimed to capitalise on the popularity of spicy snacks.
Meanwhile, Yumsh Snacks introduced a range of orange and apple Tango-flavoured popcorn which aimed to incorporate the tangy flavour of the soft drink into the snacks.
Realising the potential in the popcorn category, crisp brands are increasingly turning to popcorn to drive growth.
Last year Conagra Brands acquired Angie’s Artisan Treats, the maker of Angie’s Boomchickapop ready-to-eat popcorn, and British crisp firm Burts Chips bought popcorn manufacturer Savoury & Sweet in a bid to bolster its position in healthy snacking.
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