Popcorn Sales Pop Off With Rise In At-Home Consumption Occasions, Gifting

Cleveland — As the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of Americans to spend more time at home, watch time of streamed movies, television shows and other forms of entertainment rose an estimated 250 percent as Americans worked to keep themselves entertained. But Americans didn’t just increase their time in front of the television; they also increased their consumption of the iconic movie-watching snack: popcorn.

The demand for ready-to-eat popcorn has grown exponentially since the onset of the pandemic. One important reason is movie nights at home versus going to the theater, as an estimated 62 percent of Americans are now subscribed to at least one streaming service. Ready-to-eat popcorn and caramel corn provide convenience during the movie-watching experience, and the category is both bigger and growing faster than pop-yourself popcorn. Over the latest 52 weeks, ready-to-eat popcorn generated $1.7 billion in sales, which was an increase of 9.1 percent over year ago. In comparison to 2019, sales are up 18.7 percent.

 L-52 salesChange vs. YAChange vs. 2YAL-52 price per unitChange in price/unit vs. YA
Ready-to-eat popcorn$1.7B+9.1%+18.7%$2.97+4.9%
Source: IRI, MULO+C, 52 weeks ending 10/31/2021

Gifting has also had an impact on premium ready-to-eat popcorn, often in gift-ready packaging, as Americans look for ways to connect and share the fun. A significant portion of this premium ready-to-eat popcorn is sold in channels not tracked in the IRI universe, such as discount department stores, candy stores and gift stores.

High levels of innovation are another reason for ready-to-eat popcorn’s success. Innovations include a wide variety of on-trend flavors, such as sea salt, caramel and dark chocolate.

But despite the rise in ready-to-eat popcorn, pop-yourself popcorn has not been left behind and has similarly benefitted from increase at-home consumption occasions. Pop-yourself-popcorn became a $1.0 billion category over the 52 weeks ending October 31, 2021. Sales are down 3.6 percent year-on-year, but this is hardly surprising when compared to the enormous sales peaks of 2020 when more consumers were confined to the home. When compared to the pre-pandemic normal of 2019, dollar sales are up 14.5 percent. Inflation does help boost these dollar results. The average price per unit increased 7.1 percent for popcorn, to $3.40.

Within the pop-yourself category, microwave-ready popcorn is, by far, the biggest category with sales of $884 million over the past year. While people pay a little more per package, the added convenience is driving above-average growth when compared to the 2019 levels, at +14.6%.

 L-52 salesChange vs. YAChange vs. 2YAL-52 price per unitChange in price/unit vs. YA
Popcorn/popcorn oil$1.0B-3.6%+14.5%$3.40+7.1%
   Microwave popcorn$884M-3.0%+14.6%$3.19+7.7%
   Kernel popcorn$123M-8.1%+13.1%$3.00+4.1%
   Popcorn oil$25M+1.2%+18.3%$3.54-0.7%
Source: IRI, MULO+C, 52 weeks ending 10/31/2021

In addition to pop-yourself and ready-to-eat popcorn, rice and popcorn cakes are a relatively small but fast-growing category. Sales over the latest 52 weeks totaled $366 million, which was an increase of 17.4 percent over year ago.

 L-52 salesChange vs. YAChange vs. 2YAL-52 price per unitChange in price/unit vs. YA
Rice/popcorn cakes$366M+17.4%+30.9%$2.54+3.3%
Source: IRI, MULO+C, 52 weeks ending 10/31/2021