CHICAGO – Ready-to-eat popcorn is thriving in sales and driving flavor innovation in the snacking sector. Total U.S. retail sales of popcorn have increased 32% since 2012—reaching an estimated $2.5 billion in 2017—with ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn surging 118%, garnering $1.1 billion in revenue, according to new insights from research firm Mintel.
Consumers also crave a variety of RTE popcorn flavors. The research firm analyzed popcorn purchases of nearly 600 consumers from October to December 2017 and found that nearly half (49%) prefer cheese-flavored popcorn; 32% prefer chocolate/caramel covered popcorn; 39% want popcorn with multiple flavors; 20% crave mix-ins with popcorn, such as dried cranberries or candy; and 20% want seasonal flavored popcorn, such as pumpkin spice or gingerbread.
"Popcorn sales have been on the rise in recent years and now the category is shifting from traditional flavors toward more dynamic flavors and combinations, driven by the ready-to-eat segment, which has seen sales more than double since 2012,” said John Owen, senior food and drink analyst for Chicago-based Mintel. “RTE popcorn brands are finding success not only through an expanding array of creative new flavors but also by tapping into growing interest in healthy, natural and portable snacks and eating occasions.”
For example, while traditional popcorn flavors and mix-ins remain popular, consumers also crave better-for-you options; 45% of patrons said they are interested in buying all-natural popcorn varieties, according to Mintel research.
Owen said the surge in RTE popcorn opens the door for other salty-snack manufacturers to burst into a similar flavor innovation as well.
“The popcorn segment, and RTE popcorn in particular, is likely to continue benefiting from a generally healthy image as well as its suitability as a medium for a wide range of flavors and toppings,” Owen said. “As such, there is an opportunity for brands in other salty-snack segments to innovate with unexpected flavors to engage consumers, especially among younger generations who, our research shows, are looking for variety in the salty-snack aisle.”
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