It’s time for another new and exciting Behind the Biz interview. Every week I discover the stories behind inspiring entrepreneurs and share them here on Prettygreentea. In today’s post we are diving into the world of artisan popcorn.
Today I’m chatting with Popcorn Kitchen‘s Co owner, Andy Valentine.
Please give us an overview of Popcorn Kitchen?
Put simply, we are an artisan British popcorn business with big ambitions to spread Pure Popcorn joy throughout the UK (and beyond) with our unique range of popcorn snacks, treats and gifts!
Please understand that Popcorn Kitchen is no ‘fine snacking’ fly-by-night! We’re an artisanal operator that’s been treading the small batch/premium tier popcorn arena since 2012 when Popcorn Kitchen first made its name on the esteemed Surrey food festival circuit, selling ‘freshly popped’ popcorn from a mobile popcorn kettle kitchen, which explains our simple yet instantly recognizable brand logo.
How did you discover Popcorn Kitchen and what led to you buying the business?
Louise & I took over Popcorn Kitchen’s reins in 2017 following an informal chat with the original founder, which began as an informal enquiry about marketing support but quickly progressed to ‘would I like to buy the business?’
As someone who’d historically operated in a variety of snacking/treat categories, I was only too aware about gourmet popcorn’s untapped potential, a realisation which coincided with a secret ‘inner urge’ to be a fully-fledged ‘foodpreneur.’
How do you make new flavour decisions? Is there a lot of taste testing involved?
There certainly is! We certainly enjoy treating our taste buds to a regular stream of enticing, ‘stay fresh’ new product innovation, an ambition aided by the fact that Louise, my business partner has an enviable new product development pedigree.
The ‘eating experience’ is always the key driver, as is creating a distinct and defendable niche around fulsome yet unfinicky flavours. Our latest tranche of flavours were inspired by a number of our favourite flavour marriages, be that Lemon Drizzle and Choc Orange OR Raspberry White Choc and chocolate. Yes, we believe in bold, head-turning flavours but we will never resort to any synthetic flavour shortcuts.
It’s also worth noting that we’re vocal supporters for satisfyingly rotund and crunchy mushroom popcorn (Vs traditional butterfly corn), which not only provides the perfect flavour rendering surface to maximise our flavour potential but also avoids a lot of the bottom-of-the-bag popcorn shrapnel that so many other brands have to contend with.
What did you do before acquiring PK?
I’ve been treading the food & drink boards for years in a variety of marketing and commercial roles for major UK companies as diverse as Ginsters, Burton’s Biscuits, Premier Foods and the Co-op.
Did you always have a burning desire to be an entrepreneur?
It’s always been an ambition of mine to run my own food business and use my experience of building and growing food brands in major corporations to best effect, albeit with much smaller marketing budgets! Working smarter, more flexibly and more creatively aren’t the preserve of the big guys!
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
As for a lot of businesses 2020 was a real challenge for Popcorn kitchen and in March last year we were at a real crossroads wondering how we could best get through Lockdown. Our only course of action was to ‘batten down the hatches’ in terms of what we were spending and focused on a small number of key customers who were still trading and who in some cases (online/ hamper companies) were experiencing significant growth. Against all the odds we actually enjoyed growth of 20% yoy and today our flourishing reputation for impeccable quality, small batch production, constant NPD in tandem with a fast-moving, agile mindset has put us in an enviable place (with so much more to come!).
Please share a business high and low with us!
March 2020 would definitely count as a low point with the challenges of the first lockdown and concerns over whether we’d even survive! Fortunately, by the end of 2020 we were able to look back on the last 12 months as a breakthrough year with renewed optimism for 2021 and beyond.
Our new batch of indulgent flavours coupled with our decision not to contest a cluttered mainstream supermarket arena has been inspired. In the intervening months it’s become quite clear how cafes, delis, garden centres, farm shops, food halls, hamper companies…. crave differentiated products from all too samey supermarkets.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you are willing to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in to whatever is required in pursuit of something you are really passionate about….then absolutely go for it! Having a plan and a point of difference also help! Resilience, passion and focus will take you a long way.
Thank you to Andy for taking the time to answer our Behind the Biz questions and sharing his business journey with us. I hope you all enjoyed today’s inspiring Behind the biz interview.