NEW YORK — The next big thing in popcorn may be smaller kernels.
Several brands exhibiting at the Summer Fancy Food Show unveiled semi-popped or miniature varieties of the popular snack. With sales of ready-to-eat popcorn up more than 60% since 2012, according to industry tracker Rabobank, it’s no surprise more players are entering the market with unique innovations. On display at the specialty food show, held June 28-30 in New York, were ready-to-eat popcorn products in such flavors as sriracha, cookies and cream, and pineapple habanero. Other new products are reshaping the category — or at least the kernels.
Winning the innovation award for outstanding new sweet snack at the show was kettle-flavored Pipcorn by Pipsnacks L.L.C., New York. Half the size of traditional popcorn, Pipcorn is made with a special variety of U.S.-grown corn popped in small batches with olive oil by brother-sister team Jen and Jeff Martin. Other flavors include sea salt and rosemary.
Tiny But Mighty Popcorn from Tiny But Mighty Foods, Inc., Shellsburg, Iowa, is a line of microwave popcorn featuring Iowa’s ancient heirloom kernels, which have a thin outer hull that disintegrates when popped, resulting in a tender, crisp texture. Flavors include butter, light butter and kettle.
Other brands at the show introduced semi-popped varieties designed to resemble the crunchy remnants in the bottom of a bag of microwave popcorn. Halfpops, Inc., Bellevue, Wash., offers non-bioengineered corn air-popped with canola oil in four varieties: butter and pure ocean salt, caramel and sea salt, aged white cheddar, and chipotle barbecue. A similar brand, Pop’d Kerns from Krienke Foods International, Inc., Mountain Lake, Minn., is described by the company as “a unique popped corn snack with the perfect crunch.” Varieties include original, ranch, cheddar, and barbecue.
Snacks 101, Bethpage, N.Y., claims to offer the first baked popcorn on the market. With 29 to 55 calories per cup, the product features baked tender white baby corn with no hulls and pure coconut oil. Flavors include white cheddar, sea salt, sweet and spicy sriracha, and smoky chipotle.
Also popular at the Summer Fancy Food Show were meat snacks, which grew 13% in dollar sales last year, according to data from Information Resources, Inc. (I.R.I.). New brands in this booming category showcased innovative new twists on the trendy treat.
Three Jerks Jerky, Pacific Palisades, Calif., manufactures gourmet jerky using filet mignon in original, Memphis barbecue, and chipotle adobo flavors. The snacks contain no nitrates, nitrites or preservatives and have a moist and tender texture. Three Jerks was created by a trio of friends, who experimented with various cuts of meat and flavors to develop the product.
Promising “a healthier spin on jerky,” New Zealand Jerky Inc., Ogden, Utah, sources grass-fed cattle in New Zealand to produce meat that is less fatty and higher in omega-3 fatty acids, according to the company. In original, peppered, and teriyaki varieties, New Zealand Jerky contains no additives, preservatives, MSG or nitrates.
Niche leads the way
Super premium and niche brands are leading growth in a number of snack segments, according to I.R.I. In the ready-to-eat popcorn category, super premium and niche brands represent 30% and grew about 175%, while the total category grew about 25%. In the dried meat snacks category, super premium and niche brands represent 7% and grew nearly 50% last year, while the total category grew about 10%.Snacking is slightly outpacing overall food and beverage sales at retail, I.R.I. said. With more and more players entering the market, offering differentiation in product innovation is crucial to becoming more than just another “me, too.”