RTE Popcorn Innovation Excels

Spicy and hot flavors lead the way in salty snacks.

November 01, 2021


ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The ready-to-eat popcorn/caramel corn category is expected to surpass $1.6 billion this year, based on IRI data. Leading the category is Smartfoods, by PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, followed by Skinnypop, owned by The Hershey Co., and then Angie’s Boomchickapop.

According to Mordor Intelligence, the concept of healthful snacking had retail sales in the United States grow by more than 32% since 2012, and much of that growth can be attributed to the double-digit growth rate associated with RTE popcorn.

Although RTE popcorn is excelling, salty snacks, a key in-store category for c-stores which RTE popcorn is a part of, were hit hard last year—a direct result of new work-from-home routines and slowed store traffic. According to the NACS State of the Industry Report of 2020 Data, average store sales in the salty snacks category slipped 3.2% to $123,751, and the category’s share of in-store sales dropped slightly to 4.3%.

Among the salty snacks subcategories to post declines last year were potato chips, pretzels and nuts and seeds, while other salty snacks (vegetable chips, pork rinds) and tortilla and corn chips grew in average store sales and gross profit dollars year over year.

However, the popcorn and pretzel segments are seeing new innovation with potential for share growth, and mixed snacks have been showcasing more intense flavor profiles. “New priorities for salty snacks have emerged in a post-COVID world,” said Kelley Gutierrez, category manager for candy and snacks at MAPCO Express Inc., in the NACS Magazine article “The Power of Sweet and Salty” in the June 2021 issue. For example, there are increased options within growing flavor segments. “We’ve seen the hot and spicy flavor segment blow up,” she pointed out.