Innovation helps boost popcorn sales

IRI reports that total UK popcorn value sales have increased 13.6% year on year to over £120 million of sales, despite the total snacks category struggling.

Both value and volume sales are up for popcorn while other snacks, apart from nuts, are under pressure from retailer range rationalisation and growing shopper demand for healthier snacking products. Crisps, for example, have seen a decline of 1.7% in value sales with volume sales stable.

According to IRI’s recent new product development (NPD) study the total grocery market saw 13% fewer new branded items launched in 2015 compared with 2013. The proportion of the total food market generated by NPD is 1.7%. However, the NPD value contribution in the popcorn category is 2.7%, which is ahead of most food categories. Experts believe that investment in NPD has contributed significantly to popcorn’s growth.

Tim Eales, director strategic insight at IRI, says, “Shoppers are increasingly concerned with healthiness, a trend we are seeing across FMCG categories. Popcorn is low in calories and full of protein and therefore fulfills shopper demand for a healthy snack alternative to crisps. We are also seeing growth in nut spreads, nuts and peanut butter. Protein snacks are being launched as well.”

Notable launches in this category include Walkers Wholegrain Sunbites ready to eat popcorn that has seen value sales of just under £1.1m since its launch in February 2016. Metcalfe’s Skinny ready to eat popcorn entered the sector with value sales to £1.5m, while new to the market is Nude Popcorn Company having launched in May 2016 but has already seen £560,669 in sales.

“Manufacturers across categories are under pressure from retailer range rationalisation and we’re just not seeing NPD investment. But for popcorn it is a different story, with new products hitting the shelves frequently and doing really well,” comments Eales.

“Popcorn is no longer something you only eat at the cinema, it has fast become a trendy, healthy snack for all occasions. Manufacturers and retailers have found a way to collaborate and champion the right innovative NPD. Unusual flavours, its healthy snack positioning and quirky packaging are just some of the ways they’ve done this and it’s really paying off,” he says.

The biggest risers in popcorn brands include Metcalfe’s, which has seen an increase of 26% year on year value sales to just under £13.5m, and Propercorn has increased 24.1% to £11.7m. Butterkist, the biggest player in the popcorn category, saw slightly slower growth in value sales of 8.1% (£45.5m). Private label brands are also growing in popularity with value sales increasing by +19.8% to just under £30.5m.

Eales adds, “Popcorn is a huge success story. We’re still seeing some impressive innovation from manufacturers, most recently with the launch of Propercorn’s Crunch Corn, a halfway between nuts and popcorn. It’s a great example of how retailer range rationalisation shouldn’t stop manufacturers from investing in NPD.”

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