Gourmet popcorn rocks in Britain
Popcorn, outside of the US, is perhaps best known as the stuff that cinemas entice patrons to eat while openly fleecing them. But aside from those salty, sweet, unhealthy and obscenely-priced bucketloads, it is now one of the fastest-growing segments in the UK's highly competitive snacks market.
A report in The Independent notes that since 2010, a market that was already big in the US and showed early signs of popping in the UK, has exploded.
According to Mintel, the market analysts, outside of cinemas Britons bought £53m of popcorn last year. That's a pop in the microwave compared to the £1.3bn they spent on crisps, or even the £345m of nuts, but represents at least a 10 per cent leap (or 20 per cent, according to other analysts) in just one year and is predicted to be much higher this year.
Boosted in part by the rise of home cinemas and the broader trend for treats in bags designed to be shared (sharing optional), supermarkets report even healthier leaps in sales of popcorn, including microwaveable bags. Sales have nearly doubled in a year at Waitrose, thanks in part to its Heston Blumenthal range, while Tesco has added five new flavours to its existing three. The supermarket's snack buyer, Lee Bannerman, calls popcorn "the biggest success story in the UK snacking market for at least 10 years".
In May this year, Cadbury launched bags of toffee popcorn coated in chocolate, four years after it got rid of the Butterkist brand, which retains a healthy chunk of the near-monopoly it once had on a small market for home popcorn.
But new brands are bringing the fight to the supermarkets and snack giants. Tyrrell's, Joe & Seph's Gourmet Popcorn, Metcalfe's Skinny Topcorn, Diva Popcorn, Peter Popple's, Corn Again, Lord Poppington and Love Da Pop are among them.
Tyrrells reports sales of its popcorn lines have doubled twice in two years, to a predicted £4m this year (chasing the £80m of crisps it will sell). "We're pleased consumers have been willing to change the way we think about popcorn," says Tyrrells' Oliver Rudgard. "When we looked at the market two years ago... popcorn was something you only ate in cinemas. We wanted to take it out."
Producers have also battled to beat the perception that popcorn represents a massive rip-off. By some calculations, the buckets sold in cinemas are marked up by as much as 1,200 per cent, leading to an unlikely intervention last week by MP George Galloway. He told the BBC that he has put down an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for action on the price of food in cinemas.
"It's absolute profiteering," he cries.
Price outside cinemas are generally lower, but a 100g pouch of Joe & Seph's toffee apple and cinnamon popcorn, for example, costs four pounds, far more than a posh bag of crisps of a similar size.
"The margins in cinemas are ridiculous because you're just buying corn and putting it in a machine with butter," Adam Sopher says. "Ours is expensive because our chefs make it by hand. We use top quality ingredients including, for example, real 10-year-old whisky.".....