Not so long there was a nagging suspicion that popcorn’s best days were behind them. For years popcorn in every imaginable guise (from low calorie to indulgent) had flooded the marketplace, whilst the high octane growth of functional foods and specialist snacking alternatives (Keto, coeliac, vegan…) meant that grab-and-go shelf space was at an all-time premium.
Popcorn Kitchen is a small batch, artisanal popcorn that has a very clear vision regarding what it does and doesn’t stand for. In its 1st incarnation, Popcorn Kitchen took the decided to turn a blind eye to the multiples (for the most part) focusing instead on a rejuvenated indie heartland covering retail destinations as diverse as garden centres, food halls, online, farm shops and delis.
According to Popcorn Kitchen owner, Louise Webb, ‘We wanted to forge a reputation for imaginative flavour formats, quintessentially English flavour marriages, best-in-class ingredients and a number of hitherto untapped gifting opportunities. From Day.1 we wanted to target receptive retail environments where we could lead and shape the snacking agenda, as opposed to simply being one of numerous chess pieces.’
Gourmet-leaning Popcorn Kitchen continues to stick stubbornly to a number or immovable constants that have served it well since its original incarnation as a regional food & drinks event stalwart.
‘For one thing we only work with plump mushroom kernels over more everyday butterfly corn. These rotund nuggets of crunchy popcorn provide a greater surface area to support the business’s unflinching commitment to full-bodied flavours, whilst significantly reducing the amount of frustrating popcorn shrapnel at the bottom of any bag. For a second, we’ve enjoyed incredible success in recent months with more decadent flavour formats that trumpet some of our island’s most nostalgic ‘sweet treats’ – Lemon Drizzle, Cherry Bakewell, Vegan Chocolate Brownie, and Mint Choc (inspired by everyone’s favourite, wafer-thin mint) to name but a few! The latest retail reaction to our newest offering, Cherry Bakewell has literally been off the charts, so we can’t wait for the imminent arrival of Blueberry Muffin to broaden our fruity popcorn offer.’
Louise Webb started out as a leading food developer within the supermarkets arena, which helps explain her stickler for detail tendencies and undiminishing appreciation for ‘full throttle’ flavours and real ingredients. ‘Vegan Brownie was a genuine watershed moment for us,’ reflects Louise, ‘Because the creation of a sublime ‘non-cow’ milk chocolate has got the better of so many of our ‘fine snacking’ peers.
Sustainability has also become a more significant strand of the business in recent times, from being a fully-fledged Sedex member (verifying ethical supply chains) to forging a noble alliance with Reewild, to plant saplings every time a Popcorn Kitchen takes place whilst also significantly increasing the percentage of recycled plastic used in their flagship giant bottles (to a 1/3rd).
‘Lockdown was a time when many brands took their foot off the pedal,’ mulls Louise, bur us it was a significant reset moment because our online shop and online presence (Amazon, Not on the High St…) was quite frankly a disgrace.’
Popcorn Kitchen’s most successful NEW launch ever saw the creation of a new gifting phenomenon (home poppin kits), generously proportioned presentation bottles rammed full of mushroom popcorn kernels, a significant smattering of Belgian chocolate chips and the all-important, indulgent toppings that in the first instance included everything from Smarties to marshmallow (Rocky Road) and Cadbury’s Chocolate Eggs.
‘The retailer response to our home-making kits has been simply stunning,’ concludes Louise, ‘encouraging impromptu parent/child home cooking sessions that culminates with an impromptu family film night. Our new ‘home poppin’ kits have not only fuelled a score of new ‘gifting’ listings, they’ve also encouraged a number of our more established retailer partners to revisit and significantly expand their Popcorn Kitchen offer. Such snowballing growth also explains why Popcorn Kitchen quickly introduced a 2nd tranche of ‘home poppin’ propositions to include one Halloween essential (including electric orange chocolate buttons) and two Christmas musts (milk chocolate sprouts and white chocolate Jazzies (a nostalgic pocket money treat from yesteryear).
Taking the ‘gifting’ theme one step further, Popcorn Kitchen have also announced the unveiling 12 Days of Christmas Gift House, which is a moreish upgrade on a too often underwhelming advent calendar. ‘Why,’ asks Louise, ‘Would anyone settle for an advent calendar containing twenty-four itty-bitty nibbles when you can instead unlock 12 full packs of popcorn?’
2023 will also see an eagerly anticipated return to the major mults with a giant chocolate bar loaded with the business’s award-winning salted popcorn and three stocking filler gifting bars.
‘As an inquisitive disruptor Popcorn Kitchen has always marvelled at the undisputed market leader within gastronomic popcorn whilst simultaneously thinking that despite all their imaginative flavour fusions and export joy, this was a business morphing into a one-trick wonder. We on the other hand always wanted to fly the flag for artisanal popcorn both within snacking and gifting.’
2023 has been a momentous year for both Popcorn Kitchen & Louise, with the former food developer and snacking sales director buying out her work partner who had decided that 2023 was the year to relocate up North and reduce his day-to-day work obligations.
With Joe Wicks identifying Popcorn Kitchen as his guilty pleasure, new listings in WH Smith’s (airport concept stores, Scribbler, The Virginia Haywood hamper company and The Ritz, Popcorn Kitchen has only just got started