October marks the arrival of National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, a time to revel in the deliciousness of one of America’s most cherished snacks: popcorn. People everywhere pay homage to this favorite. Many popcorn festivals celebrating the snack take place around the U.S. annually. Whether you prefer stovetop, microwave or pre-packaged varieties, according to the Popcorn Board, the U.S. collectively consumes 14 billion quarts annually of this nutritious whole grain, based on average sales from 2016 to 2020.
Popcorn has long been associated with movies and memories, and is now gaining even more appreciation among today’s health-conscious consumers. Recognized for its simple journey from seed to snack, popcorn is also a great choice for those adhering to dietary preferences, being non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and low in fat and calories. Moreover, it’s easy on the wallet, with a quart of popped popcorn costing as little as $0.15. Factor in its irresistible aroma, taste and versatility, and it’s clear why popcorn holds such a special place in so many hearts. With numerous ways to enjoy it — whether plain, buttery or loaded with toppings — popcorn suits almost any mood or occasion. It can be enjoyed at a sporting event, a movie theater or while relaxing at home.
While Americans have become enthusiastic consumers of popcorn today, its commercial history is relatively brief. Popcorn wasn’t prominent in early farm papers and seed trade catalogs until about 1880, according to the USDA National Agricultural Library. However, once the American public became acquainted with it, the popularity of popcorn surged. The bulk of global popcorn production is concentrated in the United States, as 25 states cultivate this crop. Nebraska leads the way with over one-fourth of the national production, followed closely by Indiana. Other notable Midwest popcorn-producing states include Illinois, Ohio and Missouri.
The global popcorn market is expected to grow from $7.92 billion this year to $13.40 billion by 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.10% in that period, according to Mordor Intelligence.
According to Circana data cited by Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery magazine, from April 2022-2023, the popcorn category increased by 12.2%, with total sales of $1.176 billion. The microwave popcorn subcategory accounted for $1.017 million of that total sales number, with a 12.6% increase from the previous period last year. Orville Redenbacher’s brought in $332.9 million of that, an increase of 13.6% in sales, and ACT II brought in $225.3 million, an increase of 20.3% in sales. Pop Secret brought in $199.3 million, an increase of 5.0% in sales. The kernel popcorn subcategory brought in $127.5 million, with a modest increase of 6.8% in sales, and Orville Redenbacher’s again reigned triumphant, with $54.7 million in sales, and up 4.4% from the previous 12-month period. Private label popcorn brought in $29.1 million in sales, a 12.3% increase, and the Jolly Time brand brought in $25.9 million in sales, a 32.4% increase.
How to promote popcorn
Popcorn can be promoted around holidays, whether it’s classic holidays, sports-related holidays and events or quirky food-themed days. According to a report from Winsight Grocery Business, popcorn can be promoted as an easy gift or something highly craveable for shoppers buying for themselves. Ready-to-eat popcorn is growing steadily in sales; it garnered $1.7 billion in sales in 52 weeks by the end of October 2021, marking 9.1% growth from the previous year and 18.7% growth from two years prior, and outpaced sales of pop-yourself varieties such as kernel and microwave popcorn, according to Circana, formerly known as IRI, and cited by Winsight.
Consider experimenting with promoting new recipes, crafting captivating in-store displays or offering sales. Another creative idea is to string together plain popcorn pieces to create an intriguing textural arrangement. Make sure to showcase it in a prominent location, such as near the popcorn aisle, or another prime spot where customers can’t miss it.
Snack company Gold Medal suggests offering free samples in-store to make popcorn sales soar. Creating small, sealed taste-test packages is particularly effective when introducing a new flavor or when seeking to clear excess inventory. Keep these samples conveniently placed near the display counter or at the checkout for easy access.
Consider engaging customers with a “guess the kernel count” contest. Offer enticing prizes for guessing the correct number of kernels in the jar, like gift cards or free containers of popcorn.
Consider situating a popcorn machine near the bakery section in the store. The captivating sights and smells of the popping process in action are sure to pique customers’ interest. Afterwards, you can conveniently package and showcase the freshly popped popcorn for quick and easy purchases, Gold Medal recommends. While this approach might restrict the variety of flavors, it remains a cost-effective option with the potential for appealing profits.
Additionally, you can use the hashtag #NationalPopcornPoppinMonth to share thoughts or pictures of popcorn creations on social media.