Name: Kristy Lewis
Business: Quinn Popcorn, all natural microwave popcorn
Industry: Food & Beverage
Location: Boulder, Colorado, U.S.
Reason for starting: I started Quinn Popcorn simply because I loved microwave popcorn growing up, but couldn’t stomach it once I started reading about what was actually in it. When my son Quinn was born I set out to see if it was possible to clean up microwave popcorn.
Existing popcorn products use a host of artificial ingredients (that result in things like ‘popcorn lung’) and a chemically coated bag (the chemical PFOA used to coat microwave popcorn bags is a known carcinogen and immunotoxin). First, we only use simple, whole ingredients. The popcorn is organic, the oils are expeller pressed, and the cheese is rBGH free. In many cases using these ingredients is only possible because instead of putting everything in the bag, we use pouches that are poured over the popcorn after popping. Another first. Second, we developed our own patented popcorn bag that we call the Pure Pop Bag. It’s made from a paper that is mechanically pressed to make it naturally grease proof. We took everything unnatural out and this resulted in a few industry firsts: the first microwave popcorn bag free of synthetic chemicals, the first compostable microwave popcorn bag, and the first microwave popcorn bag without a susceptor (metalized plastic foil patch).
How do you define success? We did it, we made a microwave popcorn without all the chemicals and weird ingredients. And now the most important evidence is traction with consumers. Our sales velocity is consistently in the top three for natural microwave popcorn. Our success in both natural and conventional markets shows that we are creating something that consumers have been looking for! We offer consumers a more natural option where it didn’t exist before, allowing consumer choice to push the industry forward.
The long term impact we envision is to create awareness and eventually lasting change. Our popcorn shows that we really don’t need all the unnatural ingredients and synthetic chemicals, even in microwave popcorn. Our success in this space will force others to follow our lead. Cleaning up this category is a small step in shifting the food system.
Biggest Success: We took a small idea and turned it into a national brand. Quinn Popcorn Microwave Popcorn Reinvented is available in approximately 3,500 stores across the US including: Whole Foods, Safeway, Target, HEB, Wegmans, and Sprouts
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? The concept was simple, to pull all the chemicals and weird stuff out of microwave popcorn. This felt straightforward, but in reality microwave popcorn is a product that has been very unnatural from its inception. It took time and innovation to make this change real. Careful ingredient sourcing, unique ingredient pouches and a patented compostable bag made it possible. Our biggest challenge by far was creating our Pure Pop bag. We worked hard to find a way to get rid of the chemical coatings, the plastic liners and the metal susceptor that you find in traditional bags. We wanted to use only paper and after a lot of trial and error we found a way. Through a special type of mechanical pressing to make the paper grease proof, our Pure Pop bag was made possible. And it’s compostable. Clearing this hurdle is what made everything else possible.
Who is your most important role model? We started with no previous food industry experience, but we received invaluable help from others who have created successful food companies. We have too many mentors to mention, but they include founders and team members from Evol, Boulder Chips, Justin’s, Annies, and others. We would have been dead in the water without the generosity of these experts! To try to pay it forward we created a blog with over 100 posts that shares our experience and everything we’ve learned. Now, we hear from startups all the time that read our blog!
Edited by The Story Exchange