Quinn Popcorn: Starting a popped snack revolutionQuinn Popcorn: Starting a popped snack revolution
With their company Quinn Popcorn, Kristy and Coulter Lewis have elevated microwave popcorn beyond its preservative-filled, artificially-colored persona. The couple shares how persistence and determination paid off in creating a final product that uses organic corn, GMO-free ingredients and packaging without chemical coatings.
February 13, 2014
What happens when a young couple realizes that potential toxins and GMOs lurk in their favorite convenience snack? If you’re Kristy and Coulter Lewis, founders of Quinn Popcorn, you set your mind on reinventing that snack—and hang on for the roller-coaster ride of your life.
Two years ago, just after the birth of their son, Quinn, Kristy—with no food industry background—decided to start a revolution in microwave popcorn. The ubiquitous snack had recently been in the news because of health concerns about additives and genetically modified corn. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, a Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan, and two years of constant networking and hard work, Quinn Popcorn, now based in Boulder, Colo., graces more than 2,600 retail shelves nationwide and garners glowing press.
At Expo West 2014, the company is launching its latest break-the-mold initiative: “Farm-to-Bag” prepopped popcorn. Each package of ready-to-eat popcorn includes a unique batch code that allows consumers to trace the entire supply chain online. Both flavors (Kale & Sea Salt and Cheddar & Chipotle) are also Non-GMO Project verified. “Knowing where your food comes from is fundamental to what we do,” says Kristy.
Here, Kristy and Coulter discuss their vision, challenges, and what’s making it work.
NFM: What first inspired you?
Coulter Lewis: Kristy simply wanted this product to exist. Microwave popcorn is nostalgic for us because we grew up with it, but then we had to quit it cold turkey because we just didn’t like what was in it. Kristy actually came to me five years before we did it, saying, “Someone needs to do this, this product is so disgusting, someone’s gonna come fix it.” And it just didn’t happen! We were amazed, because there was so much changing in the food industry and this one vestige of nasty processed food was left untouched.
Kristy Lewis: Most people love microwave popcorn, and kids love it; it’s such a family-friendly snack. We just couldn’t believe it still existed in the form that it did. So I was driven by the mission of making a healthier and better snack for families to enjoy with each other.
NFM: What were some early obstacles and how did you overcome them?
CL: Not only did a lot of the ingredients we wanted to use barely exist, but also the entire industry is geared toward scale. When you’re small, the only way people work with you is if they believe in you. The challenge for us was to get people to see what we saw and get them on board so we could actually make the product.
KL: I wanted to source local, organic herbs and spices, and I quickly learned that’s almost impossible without any industry contacts if you want to launch a regional or even a national brand. The same was true for corn and cheese and all of our ingredients—finding suppliers willing to work with us but who could also scale with us. I was on the phone all day, and it was really just a wild goose chase: If I was calling about herbs, I’d ask, “Do you by any chance know anyone who grows organic, non-GMO corn?” Then I’d call a farmer and they’d say, “You should contact these people.” It took months of digging into it and we were so particular about it, but we’re so happy with the people we’re working with now.
CL: It’s almost impossible to communicate how touch and go it was for a while. I’m always fascinated by entrepreneur stories and that one thing that happened that got them through; we have a hundred of those. They were all linchpins. We were moving forward and we knew we didn’t have a corn supplier and just hoped that someone out there would be a good fit; same with the bag and all these other pieces that fell into place over time. If we hadn’t found that one person, we probably wouldn’t be here. The vision and making this a reality was very vulnerable.
NFM: What advice would you give that you wish someone had told you?
CL: We did know this and do this, but it would be: Connect to as many other food companies as you possibly can. We have 10 brands that we talk to every single week. We’ll say, “What does this line in this contract mean? Is this a good deal to do here?” You can’t Google this stuff; it doesn’t exist anywhere. These connections are the only reason we’re still around.
NFM: How did you make those connections?
CL: Kristy’s amazing. Persistence and calls and emails and making friends, that’s basically it. And the industry is amazing because you’re not really in competition with each other.
Year established: 2011
Number of SKUs: 10
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