Rightsizing microwave popcorn

To thrive as a convenience option in the new food economy, companies may also need to offer compelling connection to the higher-order benefits that are growing in importance.

Eric Pierce, Director of Strategy and Insights

September 14, 2015

3 Min Read
Rightsizing microwave popcorn

Over the past decade, businesses and industry have been experiencing a pretty consistent string of disruptions: landline phones, cable/satellite television, video stores, print media, brick and mortar retail, the list goes on. Today it is our food system that is being disrupted.

Consumers are beginning to wake up to the complexities of our food system and the consequences of the trade-offs we have been making for years. They are beginning to see the impact that convenient, inexpensive food is having on our health, environment and social welfare. Cost and convenience are of unparalleled importance to consumers; this isn’t in doubt and this won’t change. Time and money will always be our most recognizable and limited resources. While these won’t go away, the importance of other factors is beginning to play a stronger role, and consumers are increasingly willing to spend time or money making better choices. Of increasing importance in defining "better" and "value" are higher-order benefits like health, the environment and social issues.

While the consumer has spoken loud and clear for some time now, Wall Street is now speaking even louder. Wall Street seems to be tired of waiting for the major CPGs to adapt to changing consumer needs, and these brands are now under fire for forestalling the inevitable investment. Big Food brands can no longer postpone action or make only safe bets.

Disruption is here, and with this will come a decline for many of the brands which populate our grocery store shelves. I’d argue that convenience foods are among those at greatest risk of being "rightsized." They won’t disappear, but steadily consumers will look for better options with lower impact.

For example...

I was on the plane the other day with a man who sells sensors to manufacturers. He recently spoke with a microwave popcorn manufacturer looking to improve the humidity sensors on its production lines. We got to talking about how much effort goes into producing microwave popcorn. The amount of process and engineering that goes into that perfect bag of microwave popcorn is impressive. However, it also illustrates the stark comparison to bulk, homemade popcorn:

Microwave Popcorn

Bulk, Homemade Popcorn

A few minutes in the microwave

A few minutes in the air popper

$20 for about 6 pounds

$20 for 50 pounds bulk

Trash = 1 box, 6 plastic wrappers, 6 plastic-lined paper bags

Trash = 1 bag, probably reusable

Ingredient lists some will take issue with

The consumer controls flavor and added salt and fat

Concerns about microwaving in plastic lined bags


I don’t have sales figures for bulk popcorn, but SPINS told me that sales of microwave popcorn are down about 5.5 percent over the past two years, with the declines being driven by conventional brands.

In the not-so-distant future, we may find that convenience alone will no longer be enough. Microwave popcorn is seen as convenient, but it is also more expensive, creates more waste and may be seen as less healthy. To thrive as a convenience option in the new food economy, you may also need to offer compelling connection to the higher-order benefits which are growing in importance.

As microwave popcorn finds its way back to select occasions, it will fall from its place as the norm. Alternative snacks and older methods of popping will grow again. Maybe there isn’t much money to be made in selling bulk popcorn, but if you sell microwave popcorn, or the convenience equivalent in your category of the grocery store, I’d recommend looking closely at how you prepare for declining demand and sales.

As consumer values shift and as engagement in food grows, more and more consumers will awaken to the true cost of decisions that have become habitual; they will remember the relative cost, simplicity and health benefits of stove or air-popped popcorn.

What is the microwave popcorn equivalent in your business? How will changing consumer needs, values and preferences impact your business?


About the Author(s)

Eric Pierce

Director of Strategy and Insights, New Hope Natural Media

Eric J. Pierce is a proven strategic marketing and market research leader with nearly 20 years of research and insights experience. In various consulting roles, Pierce has been instrumental in maximizing the value of his clients’ business and marketing investments and has built a reputation for being a great partner, problem solver and advisor.

Ever curious about the intersection of business and psychology and with a passion for natural products and the resources of New Hope Natural Media at his back Pierce is uniquely positioned to help advance the growth of the industry.

In his role as director of strategy and insights at New Hope Natural Media, Eric is responsible for providing vision and leadership for the NEXT™ brand and its mission to deliver intelligence, insights and innovation to the natural products industry.

Subscribe and receive the latest updates on trends, data, events and more.
Join 57,000+ members of the natural products community.

You May Also Like