Popcorn secured a place of honor as one of the “Top 5” trends to watch at a recent Fancy Food Show, according to a panel of food writers. The show is hosted twice each year by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade and is the place to be for specialty food buyers.
The attendees, 17,000 strong, represented big names in the restaurant and food retailing sector. They came seeking insight into what (among 180,000 featured foods and beverages from 2,400 companies) will be hot in the next year or so.
The continuing popularity of popcorn comes as no surprise to Ryan Weeks, a Nebraska farmer.
“I think everybody likes to go to the movies and eat popcorn…and sit at home and watch a movie and eat popcorn,” Weeks said. “It’s a simple snack. It’s a good snack. It’s easy to like.”
Careful attention to detail during the growing season and at harvest means Weeks’ popcorn is designated as “premium” by farmer-owned Preferred Popcorn (http://www.preferredpopcorn.com/), which was recently honored as “Best Tasting Popcorn” in the 2011 Screen Trade International Popcorn Challenge. Preferred purchases Weeks’ crop for microwave packs and bulk packages, as well as export overseas.
“You have to be very careful when harvesting popcorn,” Weeks said. “If you scratch the kernel, it won’t pop and you end up with a lot of old maids.” The crop must be harvested at just the right moisture level and stored properly to ensure it pops well and has the desired “expansion factor.”
Butterfly, the variety of popcorn Weeks grows, “has a lot of little offshoots from the main mushroom shape and a large expansion factor,” he explained. That’s especially important for customers in Japan and India.
“In the U.S., we like popcorn, but we’re not super-picky about our popcorn,” explained Weeks. Commonly grown “mushroom” varieties pop up in a ball without a lot of pieces on the outside. This type of popcorn is often used in the confection industry, to make packages of popped caramel corn, kettle corn and the like.
Popped popcorn available today runs the gamut, ranging from $2 or so for a huge bag of the “plain Jane” type sold at many supermarket chains to $6.95 for a 6-ounce bag of Metropolitan Bakery’s Bourbon-Infused Popcorn, one of the featured new foods at the Fancy Foods Show.
Also on the higher end of the scale, “The Foodie” sampler box offered by 479° sells for $35 and features five tiny boxes of organic popped corn in exotic flavors: Fleur de Sel Caramel, Ginger Sesame Caramel, Black Truffle + White Cheddar, Pimentòn de La Vera and Chipotle Caramel + Almonds. A “pop-it-yourself” kit from the company comes with a few ounces of kernels, oil, salt and paper serving cones for $45.
Other trends to watch, according to the Fancy Food Show’s trend-spotting panel, include booze-infused foods, cherries, “Give-it-a-try” kits for baked goods and cheese, and Japanese-inspired foods.