Interview with Louise Webb, founder of Popcorn Kitchen

Find out what inspired Louise Webb to launch Popcorn Kitchen in what is perceived as a fatigued and saturated marketplace.

What’s your career background?

My career background has very consistent food influences yet has been deliberately varied. Having begun my career journey in a food laboratory (having graduated in Food Science), I became a development technologist, which provides a fantastic ‘learning curve’ when later down the line you own a brand that majors in regular, best-in-class innovation.

My next move was a very deliberate transition into buying which was essential for fine-tuning my negotiation skills and appreciating a retailer’s very distinct needs and priorities. I then moved into sales before working my way up to sales director for a major blue chip fine snack provider and becoming a consultant, where I focused on understanding product sectors from a category disruptor’s unique perspective. 

By this stage I knew owning my own business was in my blood and a cathartic next move. In 2017 the opportunity arrived to buy into Popcorn Kitchen which is where the real adventure began!

What’s the thinking behind Popcorn Kitchen that allows it to stand out from the crowd?

There’s no amazing revelation here other than stripping a brand back to its essential benefits and staying true to first principles. Many people believe that popcorn is a fatigued, saturated marketplace and yet the reality is that it’s all too easy to stand out from the crowd.

Taste and intriguing flavour palates are of paramount importance closely followed by clean-deck ingredient quality and never tinkering with quick-fix synthetic nasties.

From a business perspective our lean infrastructure means that we’re more responsive and fleet-footed than our peers, be that ongoing innovation, bespoke formats (gifting) and never settling for second best, which is why we’ve recently changed our procurement providers and updated our online shop offer because category agitators can’t afford to stand still. 

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

COVID certainly took us to the edge as we lost a number of our key customers overnight. This is also the moment we realised that we had an undercooked appreciation of Amazon/online and in truth we teetered on the edge of going under.

That said, our predicament did provide some much-needed clarity of thought, helping us underpin where our strengths and weaknesses lay whilst recognising that it was time for Andrew and I to take the tiller and fashion the business in our own image as opposed to simply fine-tuning the approach of Popcorn Kitchen’s original founder

 And your proudest moments to date?

There’s a certainly a very fine line between highlights and low points and without our COVID wobble we certainly wouldn’t have chartered our revival so thoroughly, addressed the weak links in our business, resulting in a full 180 degrees turnaround in last year followed by significant growth in 2021.

From a personal perspective our NEW indulgent sub-range (Lemon Drizzle, White Chocolate Raspberry, Choc Orange and the world’s most sublime Cheddar Cheese popcorn/reinforcing the savoury twist in our unique tale) helps remind us that diligent discernment sells. 

What lessons have you learnt from your lockdown experience?

Keep the faith and NEVER give up! Also, why contest the crowded multiple retailer pool when there’s an ocean of deserving delis, coffee shops, garden centres, food halls, independent gift shops waiting for brands that treat them as a priority, not an afterthought?

In short, why create 50 flavours for one occasion when you can provide 15 flavours for 20 occasions?

If you could share one piece of business ‘learning wisdom’ what would it be?

Learn all aspects of the business and NEVER assume that you can’t get a better deal from suppliers just because you’re an up and coming challenger.

Find out more about Popcorn Kitchen.