‘Pop’ goes the gourmet popcorn (January 19 is US National Popcorn Day)

New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) Hot and fresh popcorns from hawkers has been a simple joy that people of all demographics have enjoyed for years altogether. In cinema halls, the butter-salt variety became a staple. But the popularity of gourmet popcorns — picture Sweet ‘n Spicy Golden Cheese, Nutty Country Caramel or Jamaican Rum Choco-All-Ate — are getting more popular and fancier by the day.

Butter popcorns still rule the roost as a snack for several cinema-goers even as cheese and caramel flavours are finding takers nowadays. But gourmet popcorns have their own market, says Chirag Gupta, co-founder of 4700BC, touted as India first gourmet popcorn brand.

“Popcorn is very close to everybody — nobody hates popcorn. While butter popcorn is much-loved as a snack which can be munched for three hours in a movie hall, gourmet ones are more a delicacy. It’s also heavy. People can have gourmet popcorn to complement some other thing as it’s too much to be continuously munched and is better consumed in lesser quantity,” Gupta told IANS.

A concept extremely popular in the US, the idea to launch gourmet popcorns in India came to Gupta and his friend in 2012 while they were on a quest to bring something “unique” to the country. It’s an experiment that worked.

“The market for gourmet is growing, but still developing,” Gupta said.

4700BC started with a kiosk in a south Delhi mall in 2013. Today, they have 11 outlets — nine in Delhi-NCR and two in Bengaluru.

In 2015, PVR Ltd looked at the category with a vision to evolve popcorn category from not just being available at the theatres, but to take it beyond as an ‘on-the-go’ snack available in convenient ziplock packets or in a fancy tin pack. The company invested in 4700BC.

“The Indian market is dynamic and people are experimenting… But if we only depend on cinemas for selling the product, we don’t see much of a market in India,” Gupta said, explaining why they expanded the reach of 4700BC gourmet popcorns — available in over a dozen flavours — in airlines — and the intent is to launch it in modern retail stores, cafes and more.

They keep upgrading the flavours and packaging.

“Tabasco, Lemon Jalapeno, and different sweet varieties like Orange Chocolate are some of our innovations,” Gupta said, adding that innovation in packaging gives a totally new dimension to the perceived ‘low budget’ notion about popcorns.

So, if a bag of cheese popcorns would cost Rs 79, be ready to shell Rs 150 for those in a chocolate flavour. The premium flavours cost more, and the tin packs can go as much as Rs 900 without tax for flavours like crunchy almond and mocha walnut.

Gupta admits the products — made using corn from the US — are doing better in flights.

“It’s not to be eaten in one go… A few bites are good enough, and it’s actually a good replacement for someone eating chocolate. It doesn’t have to be had hot and also doesn’t have a short shelf life,” he said, adding that the gourmet variety can be kept for six months.

For the classic popcorn lovers, however, the hawkers — Rs 5 for a quick munch of the hot, off-the-stove variety — remain the best bet!

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

–IANS

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