Highly customizable and a member of the salty snack category, popcorn is a hit with almost everyone — Mintel found that 91% of adults crave it. And gourmet popcorn stations in the deli department are easy to make into a memorable, sensory experience for customers.

 Cincinnati, Ohio -based Gold Medal has been in the business of helping retailers set up fresh popcorn programs for decades, but the company said their products have really gained momentum in grocery retail operations over the last 3-6 years.

“As we’ve seen the growth of snacking trends in recent years, it has become even more apparent the benefits gourmet popcorn can bring to grocery retailers,” said Pete Bakala, vice president of Gold Medal’s sales and operations. “The popularity of popcorn helps to drive instore traffic and the profitability is higher than average, so it makes sense for many grocery retailers.”

Mintel’s “2018 U.S. Salty Snacks,” report identified that ready-to-eat popcorn retail sales multiplied by 118% between 2012-17, reaching $1.1 billion. Across the entire popcorn category, retail sales increased 32% over those five years, reaching a total of $2.5 billion.

In the last several years, snacking habits have increased with consumers foregoing three-meal-a-day eating habits and adding in more snack breaks. In 2017, The Hartman Group found that 91% of consumers report snacking multiple times a day.

Mintel finds that salty snacks dominate the snack market, and according to research Gold Medal sourced from Nielsen, ready-to-eat popcorn is the fastest growing category within salty snacks.

Customizable and easy to market

Consumers choose snacks based on the availability of flavors they think they will enjoy. Mintel’s salty snacks study found that 49% of consumers like cheese-flavored popcorn; 32% enjoy indulgent flavors such as chocolate and caramel covered-popcorn; 39% are interested in mixed-flavor bags with a variety mix like cheese, caramel and salty popcorn; 20% like additions mixed in, like candies or dried fruit; 12% like seasonal flavors such as pumpkin spice or peppermint bark; and 45% of consumers want to buy an all-natural variety.

Kansas City, Mo. -based Price Chopper has several stores in its 52-store portfolio that make popcorn fresh instore.

“The nice thing about popcorn is that we can have fun with the flavors and colors,” said Casie Broker, Price Chopper’s chief marketing officer. “We can match colors for cocktail parties, fundraisers, golf tournaments and sports teams. With KC going to the Super Bowl this year, we made more red and gold popcorn than we could have imagined.”

The Midwest chain’s most popular flavors are white cheddar, cheddar and Chicago blend—a half cheddar and half caramel mix. Broker said it’s common for the fresh popcorn-armed stores to receive special orders. Price Chopper has seen popcorn become popular for weddings, and the retailer offers a specific wedding cake flavor of the treat.

The popular snack is also easy to market to customers. Broker said shoppers love the smell of the popcorn, and the retailer has found that offering up fresh popcorn for customers to sample leads to higher numbers of impulse buys.

Gold Medal suggests popping at strategic times when store traffic is heavier to prompt shopper interest in the snack. Bakala advised that in addition to offering instore samples, hosting promotional events centered around popcorn like beer or wine pairings that showcase complimentary flavors of the treat is also a smart marketing technique. He added that displays near the cash register are another good way to encourage impulse buys.

For Price Chopper, popcorn is a high profit item. Gold Medal has worked with hundreds of retailers and Bakala said that stores usually see gross profit margins from fresh popcorn sales ranging from 50-70%.

Gold Medal helps retailers get the right instore popcorn setup


When retailers are thinking about starting up some type of an instore, fresh popcorn program, Bakala said it’s important to consider factors like the square footage of the store, customer demographics and store traffic. For some retailers a popcorn kiosk might be the best fit, while others might want to consider a complete popcorn shop. Gold Medal can help retailers make that determination.

“Each site is unique and is treated individually,” Bakala said. “You can rely on Gold Medal for constant communication and ongoing support, including store layout, equipment selections, menu planning, promotional recommendations, training, and consultation throughout.”

While every store is different, most retailers start out with at least a popcorn machine, cooker mixer and a tumbler. Display cases are another common feature stores add to draw attention to the freshly-made popcorn.

Gold Medal offers several different poppers. The company’s PopClean Elite Popper Series is made for large-venue popcorn makers and comes with up to a 52-oz. kettle. Gold Medal also offers the Odyssey 32-oz. Popper and the Macho Pop Valued Priced 16-oz. Popper.

Cooker mixers and tumblers are key for making gourmet popcorn. Gold Medal’s Mark 5 Caramel Cooker Mixer with Base, Small Cooling Rack Truck and Regular Cooling Pan can coat popcorn with a caramel or candy coating. The company’s 4-, 8- and 20-gallon Cheddar Tumbler/Coaters are used to make savory flavors such as cheese or sour cream and onion, and can be used to mix in add-ins.

The Sweet Shop Setup is Gold Medal’s turnkey solution that features equipment in a customizable line that can be made into a full shop setup or a small kiosk. The Sweet Shop can also be customized to feature more than just popcorn and offer a slate of additional treats such as fudge, roasted nuts, cotton candy and candy apples.

Gold Medal has an In-Store Snacking Solutions guidebook available for free on the company’s website that was made to guide decision-makers through the process of launching a program and selecting equipment. Bakala said the company also offers expert training and long-term marketing support. Done the correct way, the benefits driven from implementing a fresh popcorn program instore can be numerous.

“A gourmet popcorn shop can help drive instore traffic. The full sensory experience attracts customers,” Bakala said. “The positive profit picture means there are low costs to produce, and you have the ability to set prices that are appealing to the customer, yet still highly profitable.”