Guide to Selling Popcorn
Whether you want to start a popcorn business or add popcorn revenue to an already-existing business, you will need some equipment to get started. Popcorn can have a markup of more than 1,000 percent, depending on the venue where you will be selling, which means the equipment can pay for itself quickly. Gold Medal is one of the largest manufacturers of popcorn equipment and offers everything you need to start selling this incredibly profitable product.
Popcorn popper machines come in a variety of sizes and configurations to fit every need. Most are electric, but some gas models are available for those who want to attach a tank to their popper on a cart and take their operation on the road. Some of the larger models have a built-in exhaust system to prevent condensation and meet local regulations, while others might also offer fire suppression systems as an additional feature. Many have lit signage to advertise the product and help draw in customers.
Countertop popcorn machines are most often seen in residential settings, convenient stores, and movie theaters. These are also convenient for putting on a cart for a mobile business. These models usually feature a heated deck which often has holes in it to allow undersized pieces and unpopped kernels to fall through to a drawer to be discarded. The exterior may be stainless steel or, for those that will be visible to customers, may have an attractive or eye-catching finish such as red, yellow, or bronze. These machines also include interior lighting to help merchandise the product. To help decide which size machine you need, consider the volume of popcorn you plan to sell.
- Popcorn machines with 4-ounce kettles are low-volume and can create up to 90 ounces of popcorn per hour. This size is recommended for low-volume use and breakrooms.
- Models with 6- to 8-ounce kettles are considered medium-volume and can produce 120 ounces per hour. These are ideal for small bars, churches, and waiting rooms.
- Machines with 12-ounce kettles are medium-volume models that can produce up to 210 ounces per hour. These are recommended for schools, concession stands, and snack bars.
- Units with 16-ounce kettles are the largest medium-volume size available. These can make up to 240 ounces per hour, and are often used in theaters, malls, stadiums, and arenas.
- Heavy-duty popcorn machines are available in sizes as large as 52 ounces. These are intended for use in high-volume venues that need very quick output to keep up with demand. Some of these machines have twin kettles and can put out as much as 20 gallons of popcorn every 31⁄2 minutes.
Floor-model popcorn machines are often simply countertop machines built into a base, which may be made to be mobile, or might have a storage cabinet built into it. Another option, usually used in operations where popcorn is being popped in a back room away from customers, is a setup where gas- or electric-powered popping kettles are mounted to a sifting and cooling table. The kettles feature a chute that directs the popped corn onto the table, where the smaller pieces and unpopped kernels can be sifted out, then the popcorn can be bagged. Because these are most often used in high-volume operations, these models usually include a pump for oil and butter to make operation simple. These poppers often have a kettle mounted onto either end of the table to maximize space and output. This setup can also be used in a customer-facing application if the front and sides have glass mounted on top of the table as a sneeze-guard.
After you have found the perfect machine, you will need to decide which type of popping corn is best for you. There are two main classifications of popcorn, and what you will be doing with it will help you determine which you need.
Butterfly popcorn, also sometimes called snowflake popcorn, is the type you are likely used to seeing when you pop at home. This type pops into a starburst shape with many limbs, and is the lighter, fluffier of the two types. That lightness and the shape makes it ideal for absorbing butter and allowing salt and flavorings to adhere to the surface. This type is most often used in movie theaters and other businesses that sell buttered popcorn and might offer powdered flavorings for customers to add.
Mushroom popcorn pops into a round shape, and the pieces are usually a bit harder than butterfly popcorn. That makes this style of kernel ideal for heavy coatings such as caramel or other candy. This style also packages more compactly into bags and boxes, so it is often preferred by businesses that package their product to sell in a retail setting.
Oil & Seasonings
In order to make kettle-popped corn, you will need oil. There are several types of oil to choose from, with each having their advantages and drawbacks.
- Coconut oil is the most popular for popping corn. This oil has a long shelf life and is a very clean cooking oil, producing very little fumes or carbon. It has a melting point of 76 degrees F, meaning it can solidify at room temperature, which can make it difficult to use. It can also cause reactions in those with nut allergies, so warnings must be posted if this is used.
- Canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant. It is considered one of the healthiest oils, but often comes partially- or fully-hydrogenated. It also has a short shelf life and can go rancid if not used quickly.
- Sunflower oil is another popular choice, as it is high in healthy fats and low in saturated fats. However, it has a very short shelf life on its own, so it typically contains preservatives.
- Corn oil is often the cheapest vegetable oil available. However, its short shelf life means that it is usually shipped partially- or fully-hydrogenated.
Many oils are available in blends of multiple oil types, and some are available with butter flavoring already added. Please note that the FDA passed new regulations regarding hydrogenated oils in 2015, with foodservice operators given three years to adjust their recipes to these regulations, so you may wish to choose an oil that is not hydrogenated to prevent having to change your recipe in the near future.
Popcorn seasonings are available in a variety of flavors, including butter, salt, sour cream and chive, barbecue, salt and vinegar, ranch, and cheddar. Gold Medal offers Flavacol, the salt seasoning most often used by theaters. Popcorn seasonings may be powder or paste, or a candy glaze that must be mixed with water. However, candy mixes often require special equipment for coating the popcorn, so keep those extra costs in mind if you plan to sell gourmet coated popcorn. Gold Medal also sells some specialty colored popcorn salts to add a pop of color to your product, which is popular at sports games where customers can purchase a snack with the color of the team they are supporting.
Once you have the machine, kernels, oil, and seasonings, you have what you need to make the popcorn, but you still need packaging to sell it in. Thankfully, Gold Medal has that covered as well. The company offers bags, boxes, and tubs in a variety of colors and designs so you can find the best fit for your operation.
Popcorn bags are available in paper or plastic. Paper bags are for popcorn intended for immediate consumption and are available in sizes from .6 to 170 ounces. Paper bags are available laminated or made out of eco-friendly natural fibers. Another option is plastic bags, which are available in a variety of sizes from a few ounces up to several gallons. These are convenient for packaging popcorn ahead of time for easy sales.
Another popcorn packaging option is boxes. Boxes are available in sizes as small as .75 ounces and as large as 170 ounces. Some have open tops and are meant for portions sold for immediate consumption, while others have fold-down lids and are ideal for customers taking popcorn on the go. Some of the boxes with lids also have handles for easy transportation. Boxes are the preferred packaging for vendors who sell from a vending tray at stadiums and for those who want to be able to pop corn in advance of an expected rush.KaTom also sells popcorn tubs, available in sizes from 24 to 170 ounces. These are most often used by theaters, and are always open on top for easy access.
There is a variety of popcorn equipment that may come in handy for your operation. A staging cabinet can be a great investment if you will be popping a lot of popcorn in advance. Models are available that hold the popcorn in the base of the machine on a forced-air warming plate, and others are available with shelves so that you can pre-package your popcorn in bags, boxes, or tubs. Butter dispensers are also available, with models that can sit on the countertop and others that are made to be built into the countertop. Some are pump-operated, while others have a button for dispensing.
If your business is going to be mobile, there are wagons and carts for selling on street corners, at fairs, and in flea markets. Some have a basic stainless steel exterior, while others are painted red, black, or blue. Some models have the popcorn machine already built-in, and may have the option of a canopy.
If you are planning to sell gourmet caramel or candy-coated popcorn, you will need some special equipment to ensure thoroughly-coated popcorn. A motorized tumbler will evenly coat popcorn with whichever glaze or flavoring you choose, and a cooling table enable you to cool the product quickly for packaging, with an open top so you can stir the popcorn as it cools to prevent clumps.