Popcorn has always been a healthy snack, and apart from being everyone’s favourite whole grain snack, it’s also an all-time classic. Historical records and anecdotal evidence suggest that the Aztecs – a tribe of hunters and gatherers on the northern Mexican plateau – started turning corn into popcorn about 4700BC.
Ever since, the humble popcorn has been a popular staple of our dietary and culinary culture. Always regarded as a healthy whole grain snack, recent years have seen popcorn come out tops on the list of foods that have a healthy halo in the ever-evolving popped snack segment.
From the modern snacking perspective, popcorn is a fun, healthy, convenient, on-the-go, dry snack that is increasingly drawing the interest of health-and-wellness conscious snackers who are increasingly looking for great-tasting snacks but without the guilt, and which includes lower fat and calories, and natural ingredients.
Market Size and Trends
The Global Popcorn market was roughly around $10 Billion in 2017 and growing at a CAGR of more than 8%. In the US market, which is considered one of the developed snack markets, popcorn accounts for a 6% share of the snack market. The growing share of popcorn in the snacks category can be attributed to the fact that it is available across various formats, including Ready to Eat (RTE) and Ready to Cook (RTC).
The introduction of bold, exciting flavours by new players entering the ready-to-eat/ ready-to-cook popcorn segment is helping to further widen consumer engagement with popcorn by tickling the taste buds of more sophisticated flavour palates. Not surprising that with many manufacturers introducing new flavours and varieties, the branded ready-to-eat/ ready-to-cook popcorn segment is one snack category seeing a lot of growth and consumer traction.
According to industry estimates, the organized and branded popcorn category in India is currently worth Rs. 300 crore and has been registering double digit growth rate, driven by taste, flavour and considerable health benefits. However, the organized Popcorn market in India still remains small – currently accounting for only 0.5% share of the snack market – with cinemas and theatres as the major sales touchpoints.
But popcorn sales is expected to grow at much faster pace (>8% CAGR) compared to other snacks, and there lies a great opportunity for industry participants to tap this fast-growing market, which would garner huge revenues in the coming years.
Building on the fast-growing trend for popcorn sales and consumption in India and leveraging on this sizable market opportunity is Delhi-based popcorn player 4700BC. The company was launched and founded by Chirag Gupta in 2013, who while working in the US came to develop a strong affinity for gourmet popcorn.
Since its inception and foray into the popcorn market in India, 4700BC has been working to develop new product offerings in both RTE/ RTC segments, which are perceived by consumers as providing a steady stream of new flavours to keep them engaged, and increasingly, offering healthier and more flexible opportunities into all-day snacking and better-for-you snacks.
Disrupting the popcorn category
4700BC started its journey from kiosks in Malls, then Institutional and finally into Retail. “We wanted to build a case study and integrate popcorn as a snack into consumer’s regular snacking habits, whether roaming in a mall or travelling in an airplane or train, and take popcorn beyond the cinemas,” avers Chirag, whose company is now a regular supplier to all major airlines and Indian Railways.
The company supplies its popcorn to airlines such as IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir and AirAsia for their in-flight menu. Besides, it operates its own popcorn outlets inside marquee malls and multiplexes in the country. With price points ranging from Rs. 79 to Rs. 849 for over 50 exotic flavours, Chirag wants to take popcorn right from roads and cinema houses to our living rooms.
“Our goal is to elevate popcorn into a premium product in India by educating customers about its history, and introducing them to a whole new world of flavours, ones that are hard to find locally. We were the first gourmet popcorn brand to launch in India and my aim is to make popcorn not just a bigger and more popular category in its own right but to also take it into other snack categories like ready-to-eat and across more retail segments like travel,” says Chirag.
The company, through its collaborations and partnerships, has been instrumental in popularising popcorn as an active and versatile ingredient in the foodservice domain. Thanks to such efforts, it is now a part of the culinary practice and culture to include gourmet popcorn with ice creams and mix it with coffee at popular joints like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Café Coffee Day, while continuing to explore more experimental and innovative ways to build greater awareness for popcorn.
Charting a stellar growth path
Currently, 4700BC popcorn is available through all major trade channels, E-Commerce & D2C, Cinemas, Airlines & Railways and Retail (both MT & GT) across all major cities of India. They have SKUs, ranging from 10 to 1000, across different segments. Through its sweet variants, 4700BC has forayed strongly into Gifting industry and its products now cater to Indian Festivals like Raksha Bandhan, Diwali and other regular gifting occasions.
Despite the hard hitting Covid pandemic, which blocked off the major two sales channels – Cinemas and Institutions – 4700BC has been able to stand firm and strong through the challenges. Even during these tumultuous times, the brand has been able to clock 3x growth, thus reinforcing the perception that cinema or no cinema, popcorn remains the favourite snacking companion for all occasions and across all content viewers.
At the same time, 4700BC also managed to strengthen its retail and online presence in these months, and has registered 200+% growth rate in Retail and E-com. As a result of the overwhelming response from consumers, both Retail and Online channels became the primary growth drivers for the brand, and served as touchpoints for new consumers to discover the company. 4700BC’s sweet popcorn variant was the third most liked product, just behind Cadbury and Ferrero across the snacking category on Amazon India, which is a testament to the love it has been receiving from its consumers.
The brand also used this difficult time to chalk out a robust long-run plan involving cultural in-sighting, constant experiments with food connoisseurs and impersonal interaction with its loyalists to introduce more gourmet flavours and products in the RTC category, bringing its innovation into it.
Roadmap for the future
Thanks to its innovations and initiatives in the popcorn category, 4700BC is now the only brand in India to present 50 assortments of popcorn to its consumer base. It has over the years successfully crafted novel popcorn recipes coming up with a range of unconventional flavours that included ingredients such as walnut, peanut butter, Jamaican rum, and exciting variants such as cheese, caramel, chocolate, candy, Sriracha lime, wasabi, among others.
The efforts have also helped the brand to respond to the incessant requests of its loyalists to come up with new and novel variants of its popcorn. 4700BC offerings today covers unparalleled flavours across both ready to eat and ready to cook categories, leaving its customers spoilt for choice. The company has also emerged as the largest exporter of popcorn in India with its brand’s footprint currently across more than nine countries globally and counting, which shows its aspiration to become a true global brand.
Going forward, 4700BC plans to launch multiple new innovative products around corn/ popcorn and build this category further. “Any consumer looking for Popcorn, should have a solution from 4700BC. Whether Gourmet vs Classic, RTE vs RTC, cook themselves or quick-cook, we want to take corn/ popcorn across categories so that consumer interaction with the product increases, which will assist in developing the overall category,” signs off Chirag.
According to industry veteran K.S. Narayanan: “The popcorn market has lot of scope to develop in India and 4700BC is building the category and a consumer brand in the right way by addressing the gaps and interacting with consumer through all possible channels.”
Major Growth Drivers for Popcorn
- Emergence of OTT Platforms: Popcorn being closely associated with entertainment, especially movies, its growth is in step with the growth of OTT platforms, as in-house consumption of snacks is increasing rapidly.
- Growth of Clean-Labelling / Healthy Products: Popcorn is considered one of the cleanest snacks as it is naturally popped, whole-grain, a good source of fibre and protein, and rich in anti-oxidants.
- Development of Gourmet Market: Popcorn, when combined with cheese, caramel and chocolate, converts into rich gourmet flavours, which is loved by consumers worldwide.
- Overall Growth of Snacking Industry: Consumer habits are changing to adapt more snacking periods (mini-meals) than meals during the day. Popcorn snacking is experimentative, orally gratifying, quick, trendy, accessible and non-traditional as compared to main meals.
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