When it comes to food businesses, popcorn stands out as a universally loved snack that transcends age, culture, and geography. Starting a popcorn business offers an exciting venture with the potential for significant profits. However, beyond the popping and flavoring corn, there are various factors to consider, such as market research, business planning, and marketing strategies.
Our guide will help you through the process by providing an overview of the business, steps to get started, and answers to common questions.
A popcorn business can manifest in several forms. You may choose to operate a popcorn cart at local events, run a brick-and-mortar gourmet popcorn shop, or sell your popcorn online through a dedicated website. Regardless of the model you choose, starting a popcorn business involves sourcing quality popcorn kernels, creating unique and delicious flavors, packaging your product attractively, and marketing it effectively to your target customer base.
The low startup costs and high profit margins make popcorn an appealing business opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.
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The popcorn industry has been growing steadily in recent years (.9% annually over the last five years), driven by the increasing demand for convenient and tasty snacks. In 2022, popcorn sales totaled $2.5 billion in 2022, according to IBISWorld.
Several trends are shaping the future of the popcorn industry. One key trend is the rise of gourmet popcorn, with consumers increasingly seeking out unique, artisanal flavors. Additionally, there’s a growing demand for healthier snack options, leading to an increase in popcorn products that are organic, gluten-free, or low in calories and fat. Another significant trend is the growth of online sales, with more businesses selling popcorn via e-commerce to reach a wider customer base. These trends have opened up new avenues for entrepreneurs who want to enter the popcorn business.
Steps To Start A Popcorn Business
Step 1: Research the Market
The snack industry is vast and competitive, with popcorn occupying a niche that appeals to both health-conscious snackers and those looking for indulgent treats. By researching the market, you can identify your target audience and their preferences, understand existing competition, and determine how to stand out in the industry.
The first task in assessing the market opportunity for a gourmet popcorn business is to identify your target market. Start by defining the demographic characteristics of your potential customers, such as age, gender, income level, and lifestyle preferences. For instance, are you targeting health-conscious consumers who prefer organic, low-calorie snacks, or are you aiming at gourmet food enthusiasts who appreciate unique, artisanal popcorn flavors?
Once you’ve identified your target market, determine if there is a sizable population in your area that aligns with this group. If you plan to operate a brick-and-mortar store, attend local events, farmers’ markets, or community gatherings where you can directly engage with potential customers to better understand the potential demand. If you plan to sell online, consider not just your local area but broader regions where your target customers might be.
Online reviews and social media discussions can provide valuable insights into customer preferences and pain points. Analyze reviews of existing popcorn businesses, both locally and nationally, to understand what customers like and dislike about their offerings. Pay attention to comments about taste, variety, packaging, price, and customer service. This can help you identify gaps in the market and areas where you can differentiate your business.
Finally, evaluate your competition. Understand their offerings, pricing strategy, and marketing tactics. Look at how they position themselves in the market and identify their strengths and weaknesses. This can help you determine where you can carve out a niche for your popcorn business.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
While the idea of starting a business may be thrilling, a business plan helps you assess your idea’s feasibility and guides your decision-making as you start and grow your popcorn business.
A business plan allows you to outline your business goals and set clear objectives for your popcorn business. By establishing measurable targets, such as sales projections, market share growth, or customer acquisition, you can track your progress and ensure that your efforts remain focused. Clear objectives also help you stay motivated and provide a roadmap for future expansion or diversification.
One section of the plan also has you project income and expenses to estimate whether your popcorn business can generate enough revenue to cover costs and deliver a profit. If the numbers don’t add up, it’s a signal that you may need to adjust your business model, pricing, or cost structure. It’s better to discover these issues during the planning stage rather than after you’ve invested time and money into launching the business.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Source Funding
The next step is finding the funds to turn your plan into reality. Getting the funding can be challenging, but there are several potential sources of capital to tap into:
Personal savings: The first place to look is your own personal savings. If your personal savings are insufficient to cover the startup costs, you may need to explore outside funding sources.
Loans: If personal savings aren’t enough, small business loans are a common route. Banks or credit unions lend to startups, often requiring good credit, collateral, and a solid business plan. Small Business Administration-backed loans are an option if banks consider you too risky, as the federal government guarantees part of the loan.
Friends and family: Another potential source of funding is friends and family. While this can be an accessible option, it’s essential to approach these relationships professionally and put all agreements in writing.
Microloans: Microloans are an option for businesses needing lower funding amounts or those facing difficulty securing credit from traditional lenders. Community organizations and nonprofit lenders generally offer these smaller loans. Some microloan programs also provide business training and funding, which can benefit your popcorn business.
Step 4: Register the Business
Understanding the necessary requirements to register your business and make it legal is the next phase of launching your business. While each state has its own specific requirements, we’ll provide you with general guidelines.
Choosing a business structure: The first task is selecting the right business structure for your popcorn business. The choice of structure impacts your liability, paperwork, and taxes. Here are four common types of business structures:
- Sole proprietorship: Easy to form and gives you complete control, but you have unlimited personal liability.
- Partnership: Allows you to share ownership, but partners are also personally liable.
- Corporation: More complex and expensive to set up, but provides liability protection for owners.
- LLC: The Limited Liability Company gives liability protection without the complexity of a corporation.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
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Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Next, obtain the necessary licenses and permits. Depending on your location, these may include a general business license, a sales tax permit, and a food handler’s permit from the health department.
Step 5: Secure a Location & Set Up Shop
Setting up the operations for a popcorn business is the next step to cover. This involves several key steps, including finding the right location, acquiring necessary supplies and equipment, sourcing high-quality ingredients, and developing effective packaging and branding.
The first consideration in setting up your popcorn business operations is securing a suitable location. If you’re planning to sell from a storefront, you’ll need to find an appropriate commercial space that’s accessible, visible, and has enough room for popcorn production, storage, and sales. If your business model involves a kiosk, arrange for a strategically located space with high foot traffic. For online businesses, set up a dedicated production area that meets health and safety regulations and establish an easy-to-navigate online store.
Next, it’s time to acquire the necessary popcorn-making equipment and ordering supplies. Keep in mind that all your equipment should meet safety and health department standards. Neglecting this aspect can lead to regulatory issues and potentially compromise the quality of your popcorn. The taste and quality of your popcorn largely depend on the ingredients you use, so make sure to research and procure high-quality popcorn kernels, oil, flavorings, and seasonings.
Last, your packaging and branding are integral parts of your popcorn business. They play a significant role in how customers perceive your brand and can influence purchasing decisions. Develop packaging that is not only appealing and eye-catching but also practical. Consider factors like portion sizes, shelf life, and environmental sustainability. In terms of branding, a unique logo, and visually appealing packaging can help create a strong brand identity and set you apart from competitors.
Step 6: Hire Staff
If you initially plan to hire employees, there are responsibilities of being an employer that need to be understood. When venturing into the hiring process, you’ll need to consider various legal requirements. Legal requirements vary by state, but some of these responsibilities as an employer include
- Obtaining an EIN: Before hiring employees, you’ll need to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An EIN is used for tax purposes and allows you to report and pay employment taxes.
- Employment eligibility: It’s crucial to verify the employment eligibility of your hires by completing Form I-9. This form, provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), ensures that employees are legally authorized to work in the United States.
- State reporting: Each state has distinct reporting requirements for new hires. Typically, you’ll need to report new hires to the appropriate state agency within a specified timeframe. These reports help states in workforce management, child support enforcement, and other programs.
- Worker’s compensation: Most states require employers to provide worker’s compensation insurance coverage. This insurance protects employees in case of work-related injuries or illnesses. Familiarize yourself with your state’s worker’s compensation laws and secure appropriate coverage.
- Labor laws: Familiarize yourself with federal and state labor laws, including minimum wage, overtime pay, and employee rights. Understanding these laws ensures compliance and the fair treatment of your employees.
Step 7: Prepare to Launch!
While you’ve laid much of the groundwork, there are a few important steps still left to consider. While the specific needs may vary for each individual, let’s take a look at some common loose ends that need to be tied up.
Business insurance: Insurance coverage, such as general liability insurance or property insurance, protects your business from claims of injury or damage caused by your products or operations.
Setting up bookkeeping: Set up accounting software and systems to handle daily transactions, taxes, and financial statements. This will help you maintain accurate records and make informed financial decisions.
Opening a business bank account: Separate your personal and business finances by opening a dedicated business bank account. This will help you keep track of your income and expenses and simplify your financial management.
Accepting credit cards: In order to provide convenient payment options to your customers, consider accepting credit cards.
Creating a marketing strategy: To let potential customers know about your new popcorn business, develop a marketing strategy. This may include creating a visually appealing logo, establishing a website, utilizing social media platforms, and considering other promotional activities such as local event sponsorships or collaborations.
Preparing for the grand opening: Finally, ensure that you’re thoroughly prepared for your grand opening. This includes tasks such as finalizing your menu, training your staff, conducting a soft opening, and implementing feedback and improvements before the big day.
Common Questions When Starting A Popcorn Business
How much does it cost to start a popcorn business?
The costs to start a popcorn business can vary widely depending on location, scale, and business model, but we can outline estimated costs to give you a ballpark figure. So, to get your business popping, you might expect total initial costs to be anywhere from $8,000 to $30,000.
Equipment and supplies: $3,000-$15,000 This includes a commercial popcorn machine, kettle, bags, buckets, scoops, seasonings, oils, labels, and other supplies to make and package popcorn.
Store rental: $2,000-$5,000 The initial security deposit will depend on location size and length of the lease term. Estimate 1-3 months rent.
Inventory: $1,000-$2,000 Initial inventory of ingredients, packaging materials, labels, and popcorn to sell.
Licenses and permits: $500-$1,000 Costs for business licenses, food permits, etc.
Insurance: $500 – $2,000 General liability insurance for a food establishment.
Marketing: $500-$3,000 Printing flyers, menus, business cards, and signage. Online marketing setup.
Miscellaneous supplies and expenses: $500-$1,000 Office supplies, POS system, uniforms, cleaning items, etc.
How profitable is a popcorn business?
The profitability of a popcorn business can vary significantly, but we can make some informed assumptions based on industry statistics and reports.
Assume a small popcorn business sells an average of 100 bags daily at $5 each. The revenue would then be $500 per day, translating to a monthly revenue of approximately $15,000, assuming the business operates 30 days a month.
Now, let’s consider the expenses. The cost of goods sold (COGS), which includes the popcorn kernels, oil, and flavorings, might cost around $1.00 per bag. For 100 bags a day, the monthly COGS would be $3,000.
Labor costs, if you have one employee paid $15 an hour for an 8-hour day, would be $3,600 per month. Rent for a modest kiosk or shop might cost $1,500 per month. Utilities and miscellaneous expenses such as insurance, marketing, and maintenance could add another $1,000 per month. Equipment depreciation and other indirect costs might be around $500 per month.
For the expenses with the updated cost of goods sold (COGS) at $1 per bag, this would increase the monthly COGS to $3,000 for 100 bags a day. If we maintain the labor costs for one employee, rent, utilities, miscellaneous expenses, and equipment depreciation as previously estimated, the expenses would be:
Utilities and Misc: -$1,000
Equipment and Indirect Costs: -$500
With these expenses subtracted from the revenue, the revised monthly profit before taxes would be $5,400. This amounts to an annual profit of $64,800 before taxes and any other additional costs like loan repayments and also assumes that sales remain steady throughout the year without any seasonal dips or peaks.
What is the NAICS code for a popcorn business?
The NAICS code for a popcorn business is 311919, which is classified under Other Snack Food Manufacturing.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.