The Toronto-born company launched its popcorn line across Canada in June – featuring sea salt, sweet and salty and caramel sea salt variants – and now has its eyes on the $1.3bn* US popcorn market, with a rollout planned across health food stores early next year.
PUR Company founder and CEO Jay Klein said this sidestep into popcorn may have shocked some onlookers, but trying new things and surprising the market was all part of the plan.
“The obvious extension that everyone in the market was waiting for would have been candy,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We sometimes act first and think second, and I think part of being a young, innovative and growing brand is that you have the flexibility to do that. We knew that going into popcorn was possible – PUR is in 50 countries already and has over 50,000 points of distribution – we have the scale to launch a product and try things.
"You can expect lots of surprises from PUR and some may be even more surprising than this. This will open up the snacking arm of the business. The shock theory of this has happened and we will continue to make people say ‘wow’,” he said.
Bigger air-filled ideas
Klein said part of the decision to go into popcorn – beyond simply trying new things – stemmed from the strong visual presence it could give the brand in store.
“I’m a dreamer and I’ve always admired leading CPG companies with huge displays in retail – that’s very attractive in store. I kind of felt like I was missing out because our products are so small, so I felt the PUR brand needed big impact and that ‘wow factor’ when you walked into store. I wanted to create a beautiful wall of product and so we looked at the biggest air-filled product we could do and how we could make it great.”
Work on aesthetics had therefore been important, he said, with a strong focus on bold and vibrant packaging to stand out on shelf.
“We always try to swim upstream and really look to see how we can stand out in crowded areas,” he said.
Asked if PUR was ready to enter such a ‘crowded’ area, he said: “The popcorn category, in many ways, is tired and has seen a similar trend to the energy drink category where there were so many options and eventually everything shook out. “With PUR, our branding is very clean and our packaging looks great and we can deliver on the product.”
The popcorn, he said, was made using natural, high quality ingredients – the milk for the butter, for example, came from grass-fed cows.
“We’ve gone to all lengths to maintain our values… I’m a big kid at heart and want to indulge, but I want to know my ingredients are coming from the right place.”
However, Klein said PUR was still gaining field experience on what branding and marketing messages resonated with consumers for the popcorn, although ‘healthy snacking’ was, for the time being, universally understood.
‘Chasing our tail’
Klein said the shift into popcorn would create the pathway PUR needed to establish traction in better-for-you snacking and consumables. However, the venture into the unknown, so far, had not been easy.
“Our issue is production; we’ve been chasing our tail with response,” he said.
PUR popcorn is currently manufactured by a manufacturing partner in Canada, Klein said, but with the imminent move into the US, the company will need to find additional, US-based manufacturing partners to meet demand.
Asked if there were plans to broaden its line offering once in the US, he said there could be some indulgent and seasonal variants introduced but not too much.
“Many entrepreneurs and brands go so wide, to have birthday cake and lemonade. They’re great to try, but it’s very hard to get the scale and traction levels you need.”
But hadn’t PUR gone too wide with mints, gum and now popcorn?
“I would probably say those are the same people who said don’t go into mint and gum. I’ve heard it before and I’ve never been afraid of a challenge,” Klein said.
“Before we swung out to the snack category, we couldn’t find too many examples of brands that stretched so far across the categories, but we like to be innovators; bush-whackers and road pavers. There really are no rules.”