Boom time for popcorn

Popcorn can be considered healthy if air-popped. PHOTO: ST FILE
Popcorn can be considered healthy if air-popped. PHOTO: ST FILE

NEW YORK • If popcorn needs another glowing endorsement of its crackling appeal, here is one.

Disneyland has just launched a US$15 (S$20) glow-in-the-dark popcorn bucket based on Oogie Boogie, the villain in The Nightmare Before Christmas, which prompted hour-long queues at popcorn carts and a second-hand market on eBay.

Hollywood can bomb at the box office, but one element of American movie-watching remains sacrosanct: popcorn.

The seed first popped by Native Americans has sailed through upheavals in the entertainment industry and ever-shifting dietary trends to enter an apparent "third golden age" as America's favourite snack.

Sales of ready-to-eat popcorn and caramel corn rose 16.9 per cent year on year in February, spurring innovation with popcorn chips, cakes and other spin-off products.

"Popcorn is still the most popular item on the menu for moviegoers, along with soda," said Mr Patrick Corcoran, a National Association of Theatre Owners spokesman.

Some cinemas offer gourmet brownies, vegan sandwiches and high-end coffee because people wanted to see, but not necessarily consume, them, he noted.

"One owner told me they didn't really sell, but that people liked the feeling they were there. The prime driver was still soda and popcorn."

Popcorn - at least that non-cinema popcorn - is now considered healthy because it is a gluten-free wholegrain naturally high in fibre and low in fat and calories - 30 calories a cup if air-popped.

Britons have similarly developed an appetite for the snack, which has become Britain's fastest-growing grocery product.

While sales of crisps have declined for the third year running, popcorn sales - driven by new gourmet flavours including goat's cheese and teriyaki - have been doubling in value since 2013.

With sales up more than 10 per cent this year, at £152 million (S$275 million), Britain's snack fans now munch twice as much popcorn as any other European nation. Only Americans eat more.

"British consumers are moving away from traditional snacks because of increasing health concerns," said Mr Mike Kruiniger, an analyst at research firm Euromonitor.

Small wonder then that crispmakers are looking for a piece of the action. Walkers has launched Sensations popcorn, while Hula Hoops maker KP Snacks has bought leading popcorn brand Butterkist.

The industrial revolution and advent of big sports events and movies popularised popcorn in the US, especially during the Depression, said Patrick Evans-Hylton, a chef and author of a book on popcorn .

"The second golden age really began in the early 1980s with microwaves. A renaissance born of convenience," he added.

The spread of cable and streaming services such as HBO and Netflix provided additional incentive, whether viewers are watching on huge TVs or handheld devices.

"We're now in a third golden age because popcorn is seen as not only affordable and available, but also a true, nutritious snack," said Evans-Hylton.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'Boom time for popcorn'. Print Edition | Subscribe