Top of the pops: Gourmet popcorn trend taking off in the Middle East

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Popcorn with nuttier flavours such as almonds and hazelnut perform better in the Middle East ©Getty Images
Popcorn with nuttier flavours such as almonds and hazelnut perform better in the Middle East ©Getty Images

Related tags: Popcorn, Middle east, Uae

Gourmet popcorn is gaining popularity in the Middle East, with the product set to become more than a treat at the movies and instead fully-fledged mainstream trend.

Traditionally, we eat popcorn when we are watching a movie, whether it’s at the cinema, at home, or on a plane. Over the years, we see a broadening of this to include other snacking occasions, instead of eating crisps or chocolate, people opt for popcorn​,” Adam Sopher from Joe & Seph’s told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

Joe & Seph’s is a London-based family business producing premium popcorn, and they have just expanded in the UAE.

According to a report from London-based researcher Techavio​, the global ready-to-eat popcorn market is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 13% between 2018 to 2023 and may reach sales exceeding US$12 billion by 2020.

North America owes the largest market share of more than 60% as snack companies such as Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Great American Popcorn and Diamond Foods have given the category more attention.

Exploding demands

Sopher told us that the firm’s entry into the UAE was based on consumer demand.

We had a lot of enquires from people in UAE wanting to order and taste our popcorn. We are quite fortunate that our product is different from what was available in the market and people really seemed to like it. We saw all these requests and thought it was a good opportunity to launch in UAE​.”

Popping up

In the UAE, their gourmet popcorn are supplied to Spinneys supermarket chain and premium 5 star hotels.

Sopher shared, “Popcorn are served as a snack. They can replace crisps. They can also be served alongside drinks​.”

In the UAE, Friday brunches are very popular. Popcorn can be served at these brunch buffets as an alternative snack to sweets or chocolates​.”

Oil-free popcorn

The rising demand for snacks prepared without artificial ingredients has also shifted the preference of consumers from microwave popcorn brands to pre-popped brands, according to the Technavio report.

Sopher said, “We use a combination of premium natural ingredients, and bigger kernels to make great tasting popcorn​.”

Normally, most popcorn are fried in oil. However at Joe & Seph’s, they use hot air to pop the kernels, eliminating the use of oil.

Calorie wise, Sopher said this helped their popcorn to be a healthier snack compared to other indulgent items such as crisps and chocolate.

The products have a shelf life between six to 12 months. Sopher added, “No preservatives and artificial ingredients are used. Because the popcorn is hand made to ensure each piece is fully coated in the flavouring, the product itself is protected from moisture and air​.”

Flavour trends

According to Technavio, innovative flavours that are specific to countries and regions are boosting the popularity of popcorn in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

The nuttier flavours such as almonds and hazelnut do better in the Middle East, probably because nuts are more widely eaten there,​” according to Sopher.

In Scandinavia, assorted licorice flavour is popular, while goat cheese popcorn is popular in France. In Asia, we found consumers tend to prefer sweet and fruity flavours​.”

For Joe & Seph’s, the bestselling flavour in the UAE is still salted caramel popcorn.

They have over 40 flavours, of which 6 are available in the UAE (salted caramel, classic caramel, cheddar cheese, toffee apple & cinnamon, peanut butter, honey & hazelnut). Their products are also halal certified.

What next

Joe & Seph’s popcorn are currently available in Europe (Scandinavia, France, Germany, Ireland), UAE, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Sopher said there were plans to expand outside of these countries, as well as intending to sell their products on e-commerce with the right partner.

Giving advice to other companies wishing to bring their products into the UAE, he said, “The main things are having the right logistics and the right distributors. We have been very lucky that people love our product and what we do​.”

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