“For any product to make it to 20 years is a pretty good milestone in today’s world, especially with all the changes in the snack food industry,” Jolly Time President Garry Smith told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained that the product was “an immediate success. We introduced it in the late summer and by November of that year it was our top-selling item, and a year later it was a top-three selling item in the category. And it basically has been there ever since.”
The key to the product’s long reign, Smith says, is its taste.
“It is a good popping product and very consistent, but all of the top brands have a good popping product and it is hard to differentiate yourself against your competitor on the flake and kernel,” he explained. Rather, he added, “the success of Blast O Butter is clearly in the flavor. It is a really big, but smooth movie theater butter taste … and it is just yummy and very much an indulgent product.”
When Smith first created Blast O Butter in the 1990s he told the food scientists that he wanted a big, upfront flavor that people would crave, similar to that of Mega Warheads – a super sour hard candy that “made your face cave in immediately,” and which was taking the US by storm at the time.
But as Smith noted, a lot has changed in the past 20 years – especially in popcorn with ready-to-eat options exploding on the scene – many with exotic flavors that Smith says would never be possible in microwave popcorn because the high heat necessary to pop the corn would destroy the flavors.
And despite expanding consumer taste preferences for dill pickle or sriracha or Himalayan pink salt flavored popcorn, Smith says consumers keep coming back to the classic taste of Blast O Butter in part because “there is such a strong association in this country, and around the world, at a movie theater of pouring the butter flavor on top of popcorn, and Blast O Butter reminds them of that type of taste, only a higher quality,” he said.
Same taste, new look
While Jolly Time has preserved the decadence of Blast O Butter’s flavor, it did refresh the packaging to mark the brand’s second decade and to help keep the product relevant with younger consumers.
“Our old package was a very bright, and maybe a little in your face, orange that worked well for a long time, but I think it got a little artificial looking to a millennial,” Smith said. In response, the company “toned down” the orange as well as the purple banner that ran across the front of the package to help give the label a more modern, clean feel.
At the same time, Smith explained, the company did not want to ditch the orange and purple all together for fear that loyal consumers wouldn’t be able to easily spot the product on store shelves.
“It is a fine line between a graphics refresh and making your product so hard to identify your own consumer can’t find what she is looking for,” he said.
The company also added several on-trend call-outs to help align the brand with macro-trends influencing the industry, including a desire for clean and whole foods and ingredients. The bottom of the front label now proudly calls out the product as non-GMO, gluten-free, whole grain and 45 calories per cup.
Jolly Time also recently introduced the first truly clean label microwavable popcorn, Smith added. He explained that the brand’s Simply Popped with only four ingredients that consumers can easily understand.
Can microwavable popcorn hold its own against RTE
Even with the new packaging, on-trend attributes and loyal consumer base, Smith acknowledges that RTE popcorn is a fierce competitor and has placed significant pressure on microwave popcorn.
He explains in the past five years, RTE popcorn’s growth from a “$300 million category to a well over a billion dollar one now” has taken a bite out of microwave popcorn sales, which dropped about 30% from a billion dollars in the same time.
Smith hypothesizes this shift is partly fueled by Millennials’ desire for instant gratification.
“My theory is that standing in front of a microwave for two minutes is not instant gratification for Millennials so they have turned away in favor of ready-to-eat even though microwaved popcorn is fresh, hot and offers a lot of advantages,” he said.
Indeed, if the microwavable popcorn segment played up its freshness compared to RTE products that were popped months in advance and traveled long distances, Smith says the segment could regain some of its losses.
On a more positive note, he added, that the worst of RTE’s blow to microwavable popcorn has likely passed as the decline in microwave popcorn sales has “slowed down and leveled out” and the growth or RTE popcorn has also slowed, even though it is still climbing.
He also says Jolly Time is trying to earn points with consumers by playing up on its website and in packaging that the company is family own, and also promoting the Midwest family farms that grown the popcorn the brand uses.
Finally, he said, the company’s steady support of the brand even in tough times will help keep Jolly Time in front of consumers – especially as competitors pull back on marketing to redirect funds to other faster growing categories.
“We just continue to do the best we can every day no matter what the trends are and no matter what our competition is doing,” and that is a key to successful keeping a brand relevant for more than 100 years, Smith said.