CHATTING FOOD WITH . . .
Sam Feller, Co-Founder of Popcorn Shed
Sam Feller is a food fanatic, globe trotter and born and bred entrepreneur. He is also co-founder of award-winning food brand Popcorn Shed.
Popcorn Shed is rewriting the rules of snacks, in the UK and beyond and is the UK's first super-premium gourmet popcorn brand. Incorporating texture into their popcorn through chunks of nuts, chocolate and dried fruit, in order to maximise the taste and 'mouth feel'.
We sat down with Sam to discuss the rise of Popcorn Shed, building a brand from scratch and new line Mini Pop.
Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us, if our readers haven't heard of Popcorn Shed before, how would you best describe your product?
Popcorn Shed produces award-winning gourmet popcorn using all-natural, high-quality ingredients. We are the UK's first super-premium gourmet popcorn brand. We incorporate texture into our popcorn through chunks of nuts, chocolate and dried fruit, to maximise taste and enhance 'mouth feel'.
You launched Popcorn Shed in 2016. How have the last three years been?
The first three years have been fantastic. We have roughly doubled our turnover year on year, and show no signs of slowing down! We entered the market at a time when the popcorn category was booming, which gave us a great opportunity to prove our point of difference and superior product credentials.
What have been your biggest challenges to date?
Manufacturing has been one of our biggest challenges. In the beginning, we started making popcorn from home. But when we outgrew our home kitchen, we have to find a manufacturing partner to help us scale up production. The first partner we worked with ditched us after about four months.
Then we found a manufacturing partner and launched the range with them. However, the factory went into liquidation about a year in, and we were back to square one. We had to find an alternative manufacturer quickly!
But we now have two factories producing our popcorn on our behalf, so I think we have ended up in a stronger position than we were in before.
You and your co-founder Laura both left your jobs to follow your food dream, was that an easy decision to make?
It wasn't an easy decision to make, but we were both psyched and ready to take the plunge when we did finally quit.
We spent about a year developing the recipes on the side of our jobs before going full-time. I would say that Laura and I were both unfulfilled in our previous jobs. We wanted to make a career that we felt more passionately about, hence the move over to popcorn!
Your product line has grown significantly since you launched, was this always the plan?
We initially launched with three flavours in one pack format and deliberately set up the business to be as nimble as possible.
When we found out that customers were looking for a broader flavour range, we built out our catalogue of products in response to the feedback. So I would say it wasn't part of the plan initially, but our plan has evolved as we've grown.
Your latest venture is Mini Pop! Where did that idea come from?
Mini popcorn is one of the biggest snacking trends in the USA right now. It has been successful in creating a niche in the category that consumers can relate to, and provides a point of difference.
We saw what had happened there over the past five years or so, and thought that the UK market was now time for a bit of innovation! Mini popcorn is also an improvement on the popcorns that are already out there in the market. It has a better eat to regular popcorn, and doesn't contain any of those little hulls that get stuck in your teeth!
We don't think we've ever interviewed a "Chief Popper" before! What is a day in the life of a "Chief Popper" like?
I tend to spend about 70% of my time on front line sales, around 20% on operational / logistics work (making sure that orders get out the door!) and 10% of finance (the boring stuff!). We're a small team, so each staff member tends to take on multiple responsibilities, including me!
You are part of a growing network of food entrepreneurs. Who inspired you when you were launching Popcorn Shed, and who continues to inspire you?
My dad was an entrepreneur, having founded a recruitment business with my mum and the age of 30 and growing it to become a multi-million-pound business. He is a source of inspiration for me and continues to encourage me along daily. From a brand perspective, I'd also say that Rude Health has done a fantastic job at positioning themselves as an innovative, prominent brand prominent across several different categories. We very much admire the creativity and passion behind that brand.
What would be your advice to any budding food entrepreneurs who have that idea, and want to grow?
Find the right business partner(s) early on – you can't do it on your own! And get into a category at the early stages when it is starting to grow, and there are relatively few competitors. You'll find gaining early traction that much easier.
And finally, if we could try one product from your range, which one should it be?
Berry-licious popcorn! It's chocolate and raspberry caramel popcorn. It's probably our most underrated flavour; it's absolutely delicious, indulgent and fruity all at the same time! It flies off the shelf at consumer events, but it's one that people really have to try before they buy into it.
A Quick Chat
Your favourite restaurant? Anime e Cuore in Kentish Town, London
Food Hero? Jay Rayner
Favourite Ingredient? Garlic
What will be the next food trend? Vegan and plant-based, meal replacement shakes
Worst food trend? Edible insects
Guilty Food Pleasure? CHEESECAKE!!!