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Popcorn: Four things to know

We take a closer look at this perennially popular food
Shutterstock/Tanya Sid

A real pop for private label

Popcorn is a star performer for Farm Boy’s private-label brand. When the Ontario-based grocer entered the category in 2019 with Farm Boy Himalayan Pink Salt Popcorn, it quickly became one of its top-selling private-label products, says Farm Boy’s private label manager Alison McFarlane

Farm Boy has since added Real Butter, White Cheddar, White Cheddar & Jalapeño, and Low Sodium to its ready-to-eat kettle-popped portfolio. (“Keep an eye out for some new flavours on our shelves this year,” teases McFarlane.) Popcorn is also a “hero product” in the retailer’s marketing, and to celebrate opening day of a new location in Aurora this year – which fell on National Popcorn Day, Jan. 19 – Farm Boy’s mascots Lulu the cow and Farm Hand gifted customers a bag of the Himalayan Pink Salt Popcorn.

READ: Despite rising grocery prices, consumers are still budgeting for snacks

Snack on this

Studies continue to put snacking rates way ahead of pre-pandemic levels. The Ipsos Canada Chats 2023 Report finds the average Canadian treats themselves to a snack 11 times per day. Popcorn has long been the go-to munchie at the movie theatre and now that extends to home-viewing. 

According to Mintel Canada’s 2022 Salty Snacks Report, 59% of Canadians associate popcorn with watching TV. It also found 56% of them had eaten popcorn in the last three months. 

“Popcorn is a salty snack of choice, just falling behind potato chips,” says Kelsey Olsen, a food and drink analyst at Mintel. 

While the economy has reopened following COVID19 restrictions, inflation has reinforced at-home entertainment and snacking, says Lynne Strickler, head of marketing at Conagra Brands Canada, the manufacturer of microwave, kernels and ready-to-eat popcorn brands including Orville Redenbacher, Angie’s Boomchickapop, Poppycock and Jiffy Pop. 

“We are seeing sustained growth on microwave popcorn as families continue quality-time rituals like family movie or game nights,” says Strickler. 

READ: Snacking surge: How brands and retailers can satisfy consumer cravings

Best of both worlds

According to Ipsos, there is an even split between what consumers want from a snack – 50% are motivated by health attributes and the other half by indulgence. 

“The benefit of popcorn is that it can meet both needs,” says Strickler. To appeal to the former motivation, in January 2022, Conagra introduced Orville Redenbacher Sea Salt Microwave Popcorn made with Avocado Oil, which is considered a heart-healthy oil. Strickler says it has become a fast-growing product in the salted microwave category. 

There are also smaller but growing popcorn brands with innovative ingredients. NoochPop!, for instance, achieves its creaminess with cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast, also called nooch. In addition to making its five ready-to-eat flavours (including Kinda Nacho & Cheesy and Kinda Chili Lime & Cheesy) vegan, nooch is vitamin- and mineral-rich. The brand is carried in the West at IGA and Fresh St. Market, and is making inroads in Eastern Canada after securing an order from Goodness Me!

“We’re starting to peel the onion back in Ontario,” says NoochPop! co-founder Earl Ellingson.

READ: Snacking in the pandem-flation era

A corn like no other

Sweet yellow corn served with dinner is different than the hard-shelled kernels that explode into popcorn when heated up. The kernel is from a higher starch of corn (grown mostly in the United States) and like all grains is rich in fibre. Popcorn is also lower in calories per serving than most other munchies. Research and Markets forecasts Canadian sales of popcorn to top US$388.7 million (C$524.7 million) in 2025, for a five-year compound annual growth rate of 5.3%. In 2020, the category was worth US$299.8 million (C$404.7 million).

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s June/July 2023 issue.

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