PLANO, TEXAS — The ready-to-eat popcorn category shows no signs of fizzling, said Fauzia Haq, senior director of marketing at PepsiCo, Inc. Leading the competitive snacking segment is PepsiCo’s Smartfood brand, which captured a nearly 40% market share in the past year, according to the data from Information Resources, Inc. (I.R.I.).
“The popcorn market is popping,” Ms. Haq said. “We’ve seen double-digit growth rates historically in this category. I think it’s really because it satisfies some key consumer needs.”
In addition to taste and nutrition, popcorn delivers a satisfying consumer experience, Ms. Haq said.
“How could something so light and airy actually be satisfying? It’s more of an emotional satisfaction,” she said. “You get so many hand-to-mouth trips when you’re eating popcorn, so that in itself is very satisfying.”
Smartfood was launched in 1985 and acquired in 1989 by Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, Inc. The brand has shown consistently strong demand for its flavors, including the staple white cheddar and more recently added sweet and salty kettle corn and movie theater butter varieties. In 2014, the company introduced the Smartfood Delight line of reduced-fat popcorn, featuring 35 calories per cup. That business has doubled each year since it launched, Ms. Haq said.
Smartfood Delight varieties include sea salted caramel, white cheddar, rosemary and olive oil, sea salt, and chipotle aged cheddar. Recent additions to the Smartfood lineup include Parmesan garlic and spicy jalapeño ranch. Flavors are created through a rigorous research and development process, which gives Smartfood a competitive edge in the marketplace, Ms. Haq said.
“I think it’s fantastic that there is such a highly competitive market for popcorn,” she said. “It keeps all of us on our toes and helps us deliver a much better consumer proposition. For us, it really is about being close to the consumer. We call it being consumer obsessed and really understanding where the trends are going both from a flavor perspective as well as an experience or form perspective through our innovation and insights team...
“We’re always looking at the trends, looking to see where consumers are looking for some kind of excitement.”
An insight that led to the development of single-serve packages is consumer demand for portion control and portable snacking options, Ms. Haq said.
“We have various multipacks and single-serve items available across our different channels,” she said. “We’ve done some work around insights to understand what is the right combination of flavors and items to put into those multi-packs to best meet our consumer needs.”
Another factor driving Smartfood’s leading position is the company’s direct-store delivery model, Ms. Haq said.
“With the D.S.D. system we have, that enables us to be within arm’s reach of our consumer when they’re looking for that product, which is a huge advantage in the marketplace for us across our entire portfolio,” she said. “We’re also looking to develop a magnetic brand around Smartfood and beyond. You’ll see a lot of communication and investment around programing to really make sure that we are engaging our consumer when they see us in stores and on-line.”
A recent addition to the Smartfood portfolio serves as a testament to how the 33-year-old brand evolves to keep pace with trends. The company introduced a caramel cheddar mix, which is inspired by Chicago-style popcorn found in specialty stores, Ms. Haq said.
“Consumers are looking for that type of mix-up, some excitement for their palate with salty and sweet being a huge trend,” she said. “That’s one of the ways we continue to innovate to meet consumer trends."