Popping New Life into an Ancient Snack

By Jill Failla

Humans have consumed corn for thousands of years. Long before other preparations were possible, Aztec civilizations were even popping the kernels, NPR reports. How can such an old snack be new and trendy? In honor of National Popcorn Day, SPINS takes a look at innovations in the popcorn space and finds that there’s nothing tired about this ancient food.

Popcorn products with elevated health & wellness claims seem to be pulling ahead of the pack, according to SPINS data. Sales show popcorn is an increasingly popular snack: shelf-stable popcorn grew 3.6% and $42.5 million over last year to a $1.2 billion annual market. Layering in SPINS attributes such as Labeled Non-GMO, Labeled Gluten-Free, and Functional Ingredient illuminates a few trends popping up on shelves, and we share our team’s favorite finds in terms of emerging flavors.

What’s important to today’s popcorn consumers? Popcorn with a non-GMO label claim grew 5.0% in sales over last year to $483.6 million, while items labeled gluten-free saw sales soar 23.8% to $731.3 million. Popcorn is naturally gluten-free, but gluten is often added to retail popcorn snacks via flavorings, oils, and seasonings, so gluten-free label language or certification adds transparency for consumers following a special diet.

Added functional ingredients also stand out among popcorn products. Living Intentions’ lineup of Activated Superfood Popcorn features ingredients such as maca root, maqui berry, and turmeric. Plus, each bag offers 2 billion CFUs of probiotic cultures, aligning with a greater industry trend for new vehicles for probiotics. Shawnee’s Greenthumb Popcorn contains organic spirulina, along with beet, carrot, cayenne, kelp, and turmeric powders.











In terms of flavor trends, SPINS sees that the time-tested favorites like cheese (up 5.2%) and chocolate (up 13.3%) continue to drive sales of popcorn snacks. However, some of these same brands innovating with added functional ingredients are also breaking the mold with contemporary gourmet and international flavors, such as Salsa Verde and Tandoori Turmeric flavors from Living Intentions. More zesty and vegetal flavors pop up in LesserEvil’s Jalapeno Honey and Comet Corn’s Bloody Mary flavors. On the sweeter side, brands like Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP take the kettle corn combination to the next level with decadent combinations like milk chocolate and peanut butter or a dark-chocolate drizzle. Premium fats have emerged as a hallmark of high-quality popcorn snacks, too. In fact, LesserEvil’s line includes avocado oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed ghee across its various flavors.











Only SPINS’ Product Library’s proprietary attribution can provide you with a granular look at the evolving and nuanced health & wellness trends transforming retail today. Want to know more? Contact your SPINS rep or email [email protected] to dig deeper into data on popcorn and other hot retail topics affecting your business.

SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINScan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI), 13 Quads Ending 2017-Dec-31.