Strategic advice for the food and beverage industry

What’s popping? The indulgent guilt-free snack

In the snacks section of the recent International Food Event (IFE) 2017 in London, there was plenty of evidence of the efforts entrepreneurs are making to breathe new life into old snack types, reinventing them as new, convenient, healthy and fun. And nowhere was this more obvious than in the case of popcorn.

The eight popcorn brands exhibiting at IFE show how bagged, ready-to-eat popcorn – until not long ago a boring old-fashioned snack – has been reinvented with a massive burst of new and interesting flavours, contemporary packaging and branding and a clear free-from and natural appeal to the millennial generation.

The eight brands between them offer a total of 104 flavours. Many are the same (toffee, strawberry, cheese) but that still leaves an impressive 45 unique flavour combinations, the most interesting from the Joe & Seph’s brand: mince pie popcorn, chia & coconut popcorn, marmite popcorn and goats cheese & black pepper popcorn.

Brands are also hitting the health messages that give popcorn lovers permission to indulge: gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan-friendly, low calorie, “guilt free” and made with all natural ingredients.

Propercorn promotes its popcorns as ”delicious and guilt-free”. Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn is marketed as a skinny low-calorie option, despite coming in sweet flavours such as chocolate and cinnamon.

The popcorn makers’ strategy appears to be working, with the UK popcorn market up 13.6% in 2016, to a retail value of £120.1 million ($149 million/€140 million), according to IRI data.

Health-conscious consumers are lured by “low calorie”, “guilt-free” and “all natural” claims, while pleasure-seekers are attracted by the seemingly endless list of unique flavour combinations.

Popcorn’s rebirth is unlikely to stop there. Mecalfe’s Skinny Popcorn already sells popcorn chips as well as popcorn thins – discs of corn topped with chocolate, and described as “ a convenient, guilt-free alternative to chocolate bars, cakes, brownies and biscuits”.

Often, companies try to create something completely new. But popcorn shows that reinventing an existing category can be a jumping-off point for innovation.

Who knows what healthy indulgent snack reinventions will pop up next.

Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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