Today is National Popcorn Day, a day that is surprisingly important to the average American. Popcorn is a huge industry, with Americans consuming 13 billion quarts a year. That comes to 41 quarts per person, which is just a load of popcorn.
However, one could argue that the popcorn industry has recently experienced an impressive renaissance. Popcorn’s place in the American consciousness has long been relatively inert and unimpressive, much like our DVD collections in the era of digital streaming.. However, in the last few years, with the application of heat coming from a growing foodie culture, popcorn has exploded into something new and exciting.
Sales of ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn are growing rapidly as a number of less familiar brands are forging a new path centered on quality and healthier eating. Where people once just saw an unhealthy snack to have at the movies, there’s now an awareness that popcorn can be so much more. The new approach to popcorn, one follows much of the broader consumer trends towards quality food, plays well to millennials.
Global popcorn sales are nearly $8 billion, with the United States representing about half of that at $4.26 billion. Of that, RTE popcorn has taken hold with a 25% jump to $941 million a year. That’s impressive when you consider that microwave popcorn has only declined slightly from its peak level in 2012. Leading this charge are a number of innovative and interesting companies and brands.
Many, if not most, popcorn brands are owned by much larger companies. However, Amplify Snack Brands (BETR) is an emerging-growth company making real waves with its SkinnyPop brand. SkinnyPop, in many ways, personifies the current RTE popcorn revolution, offering up high quality popcorn made with natural ingredients and interesting flavor options.
Since going public in 2012, Amplify has shed about a third of its market cap, but it's also grown revenues rapidly, from just over $16 million in 2012 to over $130 million in 2014 and about $90 million through the first two quarters of last year. Part of this is likely driven by the more than $125 million in annual sales for SkinnyPop, a figure that puts hard on the heels of Smartfood, the industry leader.
Smartfood, a subsidiary of the privately-held Frito-Lay, has been at the forefront of RTE popcorn. Its white cheddar popcorn has rapidly inserted itself into the American snackscape in a way reminiscent of some of Frito-Lay’s other major brands. The company actually grew out of an attempt to market reclosable packages, with the popcorn simply thrown in to help sell the packages. Well, the popcorn wound up being pretty popular and the rest is history.
Pop Secret is Diamond Foods (DMND) entrant into the market, purchased from General Mills (GIS) in 2008. For the most part, Pop Secret’s offerings fall into the more traditional mold for a popcorn company, offering microwave popcorn. However, the company has stepped into the RTE field with a number of new options as well as trying to put forward some healthier varieties as well.
Angie’s Kettle Corn was born out of founders Angie and Dan Bastian selling their kettle corn outside the Metrodome prior to Vikings games in 2002. Today, the founders are still using their mom-and-pop appeal to sell popcorn, only they have jumped onto the prevailing food trends with their BOOMCHICKAPOP product. It hits all of the major pieces of your standard checklist for discerning snackers, advertising itself as low calorie and gluten and GMO free.
The company appears to be doing well, clearing $40 million in sales for 2015 and growing rapidly.
Taking the entire RTE popcorn revolution a step further than most, Quinn Popcorn is another company emphasizing a new approach to popcorn. The company advertises a clear ethos with its “farm-to-bag” approach that puts the source of the corn at the center of the process. They also have flavors that seem tailor-made for the Whole Food (WFM) crowd, including kale and sea salt and California olive oil varieties.
A Tasty Treat for One and All
Popcorn is among those long overlooked American foods that is getting its second act. As with so many other snacks, people are finding that focusing on quality ingredients can create a product that’s reminding them what they loved about popcorn so much to begin with.
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