Shining as a guilt-free snack, the latest Nielsen data says that popped popcorn has grown 15.5% in the 52 weeks ending July 2 with US $1.3bn in sales. Unpopped popcorn, however, declined 4.2% in the latest 52 weeks (with US $900m in sales).
Zooming in closer to BoomChickaPop’s performance, the brand’s co-founder Angie Bastian cited SPINS/IRI data, which revealed that the brand’s sales has grown 30% in the multi-outlet channel (excluding Costco, natural/specialty channels, and convenience stores) in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 7. In the same period, the brand’s sales grew 6.4% in the natural channel. Both these figures add up to far outpace the category’s growth in general.
These numbers prove wrong grocers in the late aughts who told the founders that ready-to-eat popcorn wasn’t promising enough to get into. “The grocers at the time said there wasn’t really a big market—they said [the category] was stale, and that people weren’t really thinking about ready-to-eat popcorn. And we said, ‘well, that’s because of the quality,’"Bastian, who founded the brand with her husband Dan, told FoodNavigator-USA.
When it comes to popcorn, being hands on is key
The company’s first incarnation was as an outdoor stall peddling freshly-popped kettle corn in street corners and farmer’s markets in Minnesota. The kettle corn then caught the attention of the Minnesota Vikings, broadening their business’ exposure until it reached the attention of a buyer from Lunds & Byerlys, a local specialty grocery chain.
BoomChickaPop’s current incarnation, ready-to-eat popcorn in a bright bag with giant letters, came out in 2011 while the company was still selling traditional kettle corn through various retailers. “It became our number one selling SKU in four months,” she said. “Then we began to transition everything to the brand BoomChickaPop, so it kind of looks like a new brand in the market but we just slowly transitioned our SKUs, and we never looked back.”
Fast forward to this year, it’s hard to ignore the multitude of ready-to-eat popcorn products on store shelves, but Bastian believes that her brand stands out because of the hands on, vertically integrated approach it has on the popcorn it sells. In other words, BoomChickaPop does not co-pack.
“We’ve chosen to own our own plant, own our own quality—we took a look at how we ship popcorn, how we can be more responsible in the way we plan and ship,” she said, adding that they also pop to order “so that we put the freshest in the bag.”
Building a good company
“What we’re trying to do in the last three years is to build a really good business and not just sell product—that’s how we’re approaching the category,” Bastian said. According to her, most of the magic that makes the brand great happens behind the scenes.
“We really make an effort to make sure we pay a living wage, and we just rolled out an eight week paid maternity and paternity leave for our employees, which was not something I got even working in a hospital setting when I was a nurse!”
In addition, Bastian said that the company makes sure its facilities have a low carbon footprint, and they opened multiple ones to make sure footprint from shipping is also reduced (for example, a new Reno, NV, facility serves shipments in western US and Canada as well as South Korea). Bastian believes making a great, dynamic working environment for its 200 plus employees is important to the brand.
On being an authentic brand
But in a time where a large segment of consumers seek out mission-driven brands, this information isn’t splashed on prominently on the company’s website, nor is it on the packaging. It’s not necessarily a strategy, more so not a priority for the company. “That’s a reflection of the authenticity of the company and brand—we haven’t done any formalized ad campaigns for the brand,” she said. “We haven’t done a whole lot that’s splashy out there other than if we get a chance to talk about it.”
And as one expert pointed out, simply bolting on a sponsorship to a non-profit for credibility may actually hurt the brand’s image. Hence, BoomChickaPop’s community outreach has been more holistic. It partnered with Food Corps, a non-profit that connects school children to healthy food.
It’s not just financial support that BoomChickaPop provides to Food Corps, it’s also a partner in the organization’s programming, and it donates seeds so children can learn to grow their own popcorn. It started out when the company partnered with the University of Minnesota in 2012 to research organic popcorn.
With all the earned knowledge, Bastian thought it would be a good idea to teach the community how they can grow their own popcorn, and she said a “natural step” was to partner with Food Corps to broaden the program.
“They’re growing lots of popcorn gardens, and we’ve grown a popcorn garden in a museum in Minnesota—what’s fun about our popcorn is that when they bloom, they’re actually purple. There’s color in nature! So that’s kind of fun for kids to discover.”