Business Overview

People in the United States eat a lot of popcorn -- 14 billion quarts of popped kernels annually. Gourmet popcorn shop businesses make popcorn in many different flavors, ranging from common flavors (e.g. chocolate, caramel, cheddar, etc.) to obscure ones (e.g. Oreo, Buffalo wing, etc.). These flavored popcorns are sold for immediate enjoyment and as packages that customers can gift to others.

Who is this business right for?

Anyone who is passionate about popcorn and creative in the kitchen might enjoy running a gourmet popcorn shop business. While making popcorn is a fairly straightforward process, coming up with delicious and original flavors requires creativity.

What happens during a typical day at a gourmet popcorn shop?

A gourmet popcorn shop business owner spends much of their time making and selling popcorn. When not actively engaged in these activities, business owners may order more ingredients and supplies, clean their facility, and look for new outlets to sell their popcorn in.

What is the target market?

A gourmet popcorn shop business’ ideal customer is someone who likes fun-flavored popcorn and has some discretionary income. Such a person will be interested in buying gourmet popcorn, and they’ll have enough money to afford the treat.

How does a gourmet popcorn shop make money?

A gourmet popcorn shop business makes money by selling packages of popcorn to customers. Popcorn may be sold in bags or tins, often depending on whether it’s meant for immediate consumption or to be given as a gift. Some gourmet popcorn shops, such as Caja Popcorn in Atlanta, Georgia, offer subscription options.

What is the growth potential for a gourmet popcorn shop?

A gourmet popcorn shop business may be a small, one- or two-person operation, or it can grow to be a regional or national business. Gourmet popcorn businesses that grow may do so by either opening new locations or selling through retail outlets. Garrett Popcorn Shops, which has shops in seven U.S. cities and international locations, is an example of a business that’s grown by opening additional locations. Angie’s Popcorn, which is owned by Angie and Dan Bastian, follows the other model, selling through grocery stores, sporting venues, Costco, and Target.

Getting Started

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful gourmet popcorn shop?

In order to run a gourmet popcorn shop business, business owners must know how to make gourmet popcorn and how to run a business in this industry.

Several businesses in the industry offer help on how to make gourmet popcorn. For example, Popcorn Papa offers consulting services, and Badger Popcorn & Concessions Supply Co. has a training center. Businesses that offer gourmet popcorn franchises usually also provide training materials and resources.

Business owners who don’t want to pay an outside company for training or a franchise might be able to learn what they need to know by reading books on making gourmet popcorn or working in a gourmet popcorn business for a season. Popcorn: The Ultimate Recipe Guide is one book that has helpful recipes which could get a business owner started.

There are also several books on the business side of running a gourmet popcorn shop. Popcoins and Gourmet Popcorn Business are two titles on the subject.

What are the costs involved in opening a gourmet popcorn shop?

The startup costs involved in a gourmet popcorn shop business are significant yet manageable. Opening a franchise with Doc Popcorn costs between $39,000 and $355,050. Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn Company’s franchises cost between $158,500 and $339,000.

By far, the biggest variable in the cost of opening a gourmet popcorn business is what type of location the business will use. Opening a business that sells popcorn from a mobile cart costs much less than opening one that has a physical storefront.

In addition to build-out and lease costs, other startup expenses include the cost of:

  • Equipment (e.g. a popcorn popper)
  • Ingredients (e.g. cooking oil, popcorn kernels, flavorings, etc.)
  • Packaging supplies (e.g. bags, tins, etc.)

Business owners who are working on a tight budget might want to begin by getting a license to prepare commercial food in their home kitchen. Popcorn can then be made at home, and sold at a farmer’s market or festivals. This reduces how much must be invested in a startup location to the price of a folding table and a booth.

What are the steps to start a gourmet popcorn shop?

Once you're ready to start your gourmet popcorn shop, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2. Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your security guard company is sued.

STEP 3. Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4. Open a business bank account

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 5. Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7. Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8. Define your brand.

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

STEP 9. Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a gourmet popcorn shop?

Business owners should carefully select the equipment they’ll use to make popcorn, for this will determine how much time must be devoted to preparing popcorn. According to Ideascrunch, a good popcorn machine will be easy to maintain, produce few unpopped kernels and be easy to clean.

Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a gourmet popcorn shop

Providing free samples to prospective customers is one of the best ways to market a gourmet popcorn shop business. The Bastians gave away 120 bags of popcorn to players and coaches when they began selling their popcorn outside the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp. The move led to players inquiring about the popcorn -- and marketers inviting the Bastians to make Angie’s popcorn the official popcorn of the Minnesota Vikings.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

A gourmet popcorn shop business can set itself apart from other businesses in the industry by offering truly unique and locally themed flavors. For example, buffalo wing popcorn might be appropriate for a gourmet popcorn business in Buffalo, New York to sell.  

How and when to build a team

Many gourmet popcorn shop businesses start out as one- or two-person operations. Business owners often add employees as their business grows and is able to support additional employees. When business owners decide to hire people, they often hire packaging personnel and delivery drivers first.

Legal Considerations

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a gourmet popcorn shop. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.

  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Certificate of Occupancy

A gourmet popcorn shop is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a gourmet popcorn shop.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your gourmet popcorn shop will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Food Regulations

When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections.

There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business.

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

Gourmet popcorn can sell for tens of dollars per pound. For example, Caja Popcorn sells 1-gallon tins of popcorn for $23.95, 2-gallon tins for $43.95 and 3.5-gallon tins for $69.95. Similarly, Garrett Popcorn Shops has some 1-gallon tins priced at $34.00 and 6-gallon tins that cost over $100.

What are the ongoing expenses for a gourmet popcorn shop?

The ongoing expenses for a gourmet popcorn shop business include rent, utilities, and the cost of ingredients and supplies. Prices for popcorn kernels generally range from $20 to $40 per 50 pounds. Other ingredient and supply costs are minimal.

How much profit can a gourmet popcorn shop make?

Some gourmet popcorn businesses are extremely profitable. The Bastians have grown Angie’s Popcorn into a $50-million business.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Gourmet popcorn shop businesses can increase profits by offering limited-edition tins that have special designs. Unique tins that feature city skylines, famous artwork, holiday scenes, local landmarks or other designs make great gifts, and people will often pay more for the tins.

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Next Steps

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