Who doesn’t love popcorn? I’m a big fan of the buttery traditional version but you really can put almost any flavor on it to create something unique and delicious.
So if you love popcorn and dream of having your own business, these two passions could work together nicely to help you make a nice profit.
Creating your own gourmet popcorn business can provide financial independence and give you an outlet for your creativity, drive and determination. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to start a popcorn business of your own.
How to start a popcorn business
From market research to choosing a business name to serving your first customer, having a popcorn business plan can help you move your business from paper dream to profitable enterprise. I recommend following the steps below and watch your business come to life.
1. Write your popcorn business plan
Your business plan creates a road map for how you will structure, operate and grow your popcorn business. A solid business plan shows how you will build a profitable popcorn enterprise. Additionally, it can help you convince others to invest in your business for faster growth.
Quick tip: Include a Strategy and Implementation section that summarizes your marketing and sales strategies. This section should include how you plan to enter and expand your market. It also contains the details regarding your pricing and cost strategies (including your expected popcorn profit margin) as well as pertinent information about the logistics of how to start a popcorn business.
Your business plan also provides information about your operating cycle, number of employees and recruitment strategies. If you plan to have regular business hours, put those in your business plan as well.
(And don’t worry, these can all be changed at a later stage. In fact, you’ll probably end up changing things as you do more market research. But having a business plan like this now that captures your vision is a great starting point.)
2. Choose a name for your business
Brainstorming a great name for your new popcorn business can take some time, but it’s a really fun part of the process.
But one key aspect of this should be to only choose a business name where the domain name is available too. After all, you want people to be able to find you online.
For checking domain name availability (and actually buying it), I always use Hover. I’ve found it to be really cheap and secure and they’ve always been helpful when I’ve had questions.
(For example, at the time of writing this, the one below is still available and would be a great popcorn business name!)
3. Create your business’ site
As your site will be one of the first things that potential customers see when looking for you, your business’ website is a hugely important asset for your company.
You can easily launch your website yourself – even if you don’t have any tech experience!
See our step-by-step guide on how to start your own site to see just how to do this in less than 20 minutes.
You can easily do this yourself. For example, Kadence is a great theme for non-tech people to design their own sites by just clicking and dragging sections to make it look good, rather than dealing with complicated coding.
Alternatively, you could simply buy a pre-made theme or hire someone to do it for you. Fiverr can be good for this, with some excellent freelancers on there whose reviews will show you the great work they can do.
4. Lock in your social media profiles
Social media is going to be huge in promoting your gourmet popcorn business so locking down the relevant handles that match your business’ name is important.
That said, you don’t need all of them as this can stretch yourself too thin, so it’s best to focus your efforts where your customers are. At the very least, this will likely include Facebook and Instagram.
5. Sort out the legalities
After choosing a business name, you’ll want to take care of the following housekeeping items to remain legal and compliant with state and federal laws.
Firstly, you’ll need to register your business with the appropriate state and federal authorities. Then, you can apply for an employer identification number (EIN). You’ll need an EIN to file taxes and set up a bank account for your popcorn empire.
Finally, use your business name and EIN to apply for permits and licenses required by your state government. These requirements vary by industry, location, and other considerations, so check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see the exact legal requirements to start a popcorn business in your area. After all, no one wants to accidentally start an illegal side hustle.
FYI: If this all sounds a bit hard, take a look at this service offered by BetterLegal. For a flat fee, they’ll have your business up and running in two business days. All you have to do is spend five minutes filling in some forms and they’ll take care of the rest.
6. Fund your business
Given that you’ll have already put together your business plan first, you can itemize all the things you’ll need to get started, including things like the popcorn business equipment you’ll need. This will help you calculate your startup capital.
If you have enough cash on hand, you can go ahead right away with your business plans. However, most entrepreneurs raise capital by taking out a loan or finding investors. Others crowdfund, save money or look for venture capital.
Researching ideas for raising business funds allows you to discover unique ways to come up with cash. Fortunately, starting a popcorn business doesn’t have to cost you your life savings.
7. Pick your business location
Do you want to start your popcorn business at home or immediately jump into a commercial location?
Going into the popcorn business or gourmet popcorn business gives you a lot of options for where you will produce and distribute your product. For example, you can partner with catering services to set up popcorn carts at birthdays, bar mitzvahs and community events.
(This is actually why many people treat selling food as their weekend job on the side of their nine-to-five or even as a part time job if they’re looking to avoid full time hours.)
Keep in mind that the location of your business impacts your legal obligations, taxes, popcorn production capacity and revenue.
8. Choose a business structure
You also need to choose a business structure so that you can register as a legal entity. This impacts your personal liability and how much you will pay in taxes. It may benefit you to choose a limited liability company, general partnership or sole proprietorship for your popcorn business.
Generally, I suggest a sole proprietorship for a small gourmet popcorn shop or catering sideline. This can help you save money on taxes and limit your personal risk.
That said, if you intend to grow the business and have multiple stores or chains, you will need to form a general partnership or Limited Liability Company, LLC to onboard new partners.
You can learn how your business structure impacts your taxes on the IRS website. I’d also strongly recommend that you talk to a professional about this to ensure you have everything in order.
9. Conduct market research
According to the Small Business Association (SBA), popcorn entrepreneurs and other new businesses must prioritize market research early on. While conducting market research, you’ll find out the wants and needs of your target demographic. You need this information to successfully start a popcorn business.
It’s equally important to understand businesses in your area that already offer snacks to hungry consumers. Once you understand the other businesses in the area, it will help you develop your niche market. Ultimately, you have to determine what will make people buy your popcorn over the products of your competitors.
According to the SBA, answering the following questions in your market research can help you understand your target market:
- What type of consumers will pay premium prices for gourmet popcorn?
- How large is the target market? Think beyond the moviegoer crowd and consider unique places that you can reach hungry consumers. (Baseball games, Homecoming parades, etc.)
- What income range can afford to pay more than $10 or more for bespoke popcorn flavors.
- Where do your customers live or hangout? Where can you reach them?
- How can you identify new markets that aren’t already saturated with snack goods?
- How much are customers willing to pay for great popcorn?
10. Consider other monetization options
Once you’ve done your market research, it’s normal to perhaps want to revise your business plan to either expand on the popcorn business ideas you’ve had or remove some aspects of it that may not work out in practice.
And if you want to keep your business solely focused on it’s original goal, which may be, say, selling popcorn from a food truck, then that’s great! Alternatively, you may have realized that you’ve stumbled on a great idea involving new income streams.
For example, if you find that certain flavors become very popular quickly, consider creating an online recipe book with your favorite popcorn toppings laid out. You don’t have to give away your secret sauce, just provide enough material for at home popcorn aficionados to express their creativity and develop loyalty to your brand.
11. Start building your online presence
You’ve already secured your website in an earlier step, but it’s important to keep in mind what it’s used for so you can keep doing that.
Broadly speaking, you’ll use your website to provide informative content for potential customers, sell your product and offer discounts to repeat purchases, among many other functions. This means, even before your official launch, it’s critical to ensure all of this is added to your site. That way, any potential customers you get even just after launch will be able to see everything they need on there.
And after your initial launch, you should provide a continuous stream of content customized for search engine optimization, to attract new customers in addition to those who search for you specifically.
This also applies to any social media profiles that you’ve created relating to your new popcorn business, which can be invaluable for helping you to advertise your products.
Related: 6 Proven Ways to Make Money on Snapchat
Is a popcorn business profitable?
Popcorn doesn’t cost a lot of money to make, even if you offer customized toppings. Therefore, a popcorn business venture can definitely be profitable. Popcorn has also consistently been popular, including as new flavors appear on the market, meaning your product should always sell, depending on the location where you do this.
That is, when it comes to starting a popcorn business, where you sell this may become more of a question than your product.
Everyone loves popcorn, so you already know your product is popular. But it’s important to ensure you’re offering it in the right locations.
This could include if your focus is on selling it at certain events, like having a gourmet popcorn truck at weddings. In that case, finding soon-to-be brides and grooms to ensure they know about you will be key.
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What supplies do you need to sell popcorn?
Popcorn comes with high profit margins to help you quickly recover the initial cost of supplies and equipment. You also won’t have to spend a lot of money on labor costs, especially if you plan to sell the popcorn directly to customers yourself.
The basic supplies for starting a popcorn business include the following:
- Popcorn machine
- Bags with company logo
- Salt and oil
- Seasonings and toppings
- Promotional materials
There are many other supplies that can make your business run more efficiently. However, compared to other products, you can expect low overhead costs for producing and selling popcorn.
How much money can you make selling popcorn?
Budget about $0.22 for supplies to make a small order of popcorn. You can then sell the order for at least $1.25, netting an 87% profit. And the profit margin is even larger on bigger orders, which may cost you slightly more to make but can be sold for an even larger profit.
As you can tell, the popcorn profit margin is much higher than you’ll see for a lot of other products, which is one reason why starting a popcorn business can be so appealing.
And these profits can definitely add up. Just take the example of Popcorn Palace, which had $8.5 million in sales in 2014.
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How much should I charge for popcorn?
The amount you should charge for your popcorn will largely depend on your competitors’ pricing and a comparison of your product range against theirs. In general, though, a small order can start at $1.25 with larger or more gourmet versions increasing in price accordingly.
That said, product pricing is something of an art. You can sell gourmet popcorn for more than $10 per pound. In fact, Caja Popcorn takes home nearly $24 million for a 1-gallon tin of gourmet popcorn.
I believe in letting the results of your market research guide you in setting prices for new products.
Is selling popcorn a good business?
Selling popcorn can be a good business. You can start a gourmet popcorn business for $1,000 or less, depending on the types of toppings, packaging and other supplies you need. Fortunately, popcorn kernels, dry seasonings and oils do well in storage for long periods of time, allowing you to take advantage of bulk order discounts.
And as outlined above, the popcorn profit margin is much higher than other products, especially in the food industry.
In addition, while market research is important to find the best, specific niche for you, everyone knows popcorn is a popular product. This means you’ve already taken out the question of whether people actually want to buy your product.
Related: 11 Steps to Successfully Start a Paint and Sip Business
Why is it a good idea to start a popcorn business?
High profit margins
People are willing to pay premium prices for their favorite snacks. Although it costs theaters less than a dollar to make a large bag of popcorn, moviegoers happily pay $7.00 for something to nosh on while they catch the latest blockbuster.
By adding some fancy labeling and attractive but inexpensive packaging, you can easily charge even more for gourmet popcorn you sell at catered events or as part of your food truck business. Combining popcorn sales with other sidelines can help you increase your profit margin even more.
Unleash your customers’ creativity.
By offering several flavors and toppings, you can let your customers invent their own gourmet popcorn.
People love the opportunity to express their creativity and people also love good food. Therefore, you can make a huge profit if you market your business or event properly.
The perfect recession-proof food product
Even at prices between $10 and $20 per pound, gourmet popcorn won’t break the bank for most consumers, even during a recession.
If you do need to generate sales during a down economy, offering two-for-one sales keeps your product moving and still gives you a healthy margin.
How can I increase popcorn sales?
After you learn how to start a popcorn business, it’s time to expand your footprint. There are a number of ways you can do that.
Find local partners
Consider partnering with a chain of gastropubs or sports franchises, offering them exclusive rights to customized product lines.
You can even create a customized flavor that ties in with your partner’s branding or a new product they’re releasing.
Create a gourmet popcorn appetizer for a local restaurant
If you (or someone you know) owns a family restaurant or a sports grill, expand your menu to include gourmet popcorn. This fast, yummy snack is the perfect pairing for buddies watching the game or enjoying a few beers on a Friday night.
Keep your flavors casual by adding cheese or caramel, or upgrade your popcorn selections with truffle oil, herbs and other heady flavors.
Here are a few flavors to consider adding to your popcorn appetizers and entrees:
- Chili lime
- Thai curry
- Parmesan rosemary
- Buffalo sauce
- Salt and vinegar
Offer promotional incentives
Bundle popcorn with soda, candy and other concessions at local sporting events. You can also offer free popcorn samples for kids when their parents make another purchase.
This creates goodwill and gets the word out about how delicious your popcorn tastes.
Create popcorn stations
With a popcorn maker, you can take your business on the road. If you already cater events, popcorn stations make an attractive addition to a carnival theme or during cocktail events. Popcorn machines decorated with attractive branding can help promote your side hustle and increase your profits at any event.
Display a vintage cart to take consumers back to their younger years. This festive addition will put guests in the mood to celebrate and can boost beverage and other food sales.
If you’re looking for some sweet popcorn ideas, consider mixed berry, cookies and cream, peanut butter and chocolate, and cinnamon and sugar flavors. All these combinations complement the salty taste of popcorn very well.
Offering free products can be a highly effective way to attract new customers.
For example, you can ask schools or colleges in your area if you can hand out free popcorn for a day. You could also approach any conferences or trade fairs to see if they would be willing to host you for a few hours.
Requirements to start a popcorn business
We’ve already mentioned that the process of starting a popcorn business isn’t that hard, but there are still some requirements to start a popcorn business. With that in mind, here are some great ideas that can help your business succeed from day one:
1. Buy or hire your popcorn business equipment
You may not want to buy this outright, especially if you don’t have much capital yet, which is why hiring it may be a better option for you.
Leasing this equipment can also come with other advantages, like the fact that the leasing company will maintain the equipment for you and replace it if it stops working.
You’ll need to particularly stock up on mixers, candy coaters, popcorn machines, flavors and toppings as you prepare to launch or expand your business. It can also help to try out different popcorn poppers to find out which ones can stand the wear and tear of your commercial needs.
2. Purchase supplies
The exact supplies you’ll need will depend on what you plan to sell. Of course, unpopped kernels are a must, but here are a few ideas to differentiate your business for which you’ll need various items:
- Make flavored un – popped popcorn.
- Add a microwaveable version of your bestsellers.
- Sell bagged and branded ready-to-crunch popcorn.
Also, team up with bulk suppliers. Loading up on spices, herbs and sauces can save you a significant amount of money. Most toppings have a long shelf life, and you can take advantage of this by ordering large quantities for discounted prices.
3. Rent commercial space (if you plan to have a fixed location)
It’s a good idea to rent rather than buy commercial space for at least the first year of your business.
If the business takes off you may need a larger facility, or you may end up wanting to downsize. Renting gives you this flexibility.
4. Figure out distribution channels
Have you figured out how you will distribute your gourmet popcorn? Does it make sense to buy your own vans, food trucks or other vehicles to help get your products into the hands of clients faster?
For online-based gourmet popcorn companies, setting up an account with UPS, FedEx and USPS can help you save money on delivery costs.
On the other hand, if you plan to start a brick-and-mortar company, it still makes sense to start a website for the company. You will eventually want to expand into digital sales, and the website is the best way to attract organic traffic to your site.
5. Launch with some fanfare
Whether your launch party includes a few dozen or a few hundred people, create some buzz around the event. The opening of your gourmet popcorn business should come with fanfare, lots of promotional material and plenty of free samples.
During your launch party, hand out numerous coupons for free samples or deep discounts. Whether that means setting up a booth at the farmers market or going door to door to promote your product, starting out strong can help you gain an early foothold in your target locations.
6. Refine techniques as needed
Don’t expect to get everything right the first time out. Even if you hire a marketing guru to help you push your posh popcorn, not every marketing event will draw in the crowds. However, you should use your failures as learning experiences so that you do better the next time.
By refining your techniques along the way, you can find out whether teens and adults like teriyaki better than jalapeño or dill pickle flavors (my personal favorite!). From kettle corn loaded with caramel to hot air popcorn doused with truffle oil, you’ll eventually hit on the right combination to expand your basement business to a popcorn phenomenon.
Final thoughts on how to start a gourmet popcorn business
Once you learn how to start a popcorn business, you’ll see that it’s really not that complicated. In particular, once you’ve sorted out the legal aspects relating to serving food, this can be a great, low-cost business to launch.
As seen by people who’ve done this already, a popcorn business can be very profitable, especially with the range of gourmet popcorn business ideas that are out there now. And with the popcorn profit margin being much higher than other products, especially those based around food that always has to be kept fresh, selling popcorn could definitely be a good business for you to launch.