Key facts about popcorn in the UK


No.1 How big is the popcorn market in the UK?
  • Over the past few years the bagged (ready-to-eat) popcorn sector has exploded!
  • Popcorn has been a real success story for UK food manufacturing with many new, innovative products and flavours arriving on retailers’ shelves and made available to consumers.
  • Estimates of the current bagged popcorn market vary quite widely, with figures quoted ranging from between £116 million and £170 million, and year-on-year growth thought to be somewhere between 4 to 12%i.
  • In terms of volumes, UK manufacturers are thought to be producing around 12,000 to 15,000 metric tonnes of bagged popcorn per year.
  • There are now over 20 popcorn manufacturers and brand owners known to be operating in the UK, most whom are small or medium enterprises.
No. 2 Where does popcorn come from?
  • Popcorn is one of the original snack foods. Evidence suggests popcorn maize was farmed in Inca and Peruvian societies as early as 300 BC, and anecdotally Christopher Columbus is thought to have introduced popcorn to Europe in the late 15th Century.
  • Today popcorn maize is grown in many parts of the world including North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.
  • Most of the bagged popcorn that is sold in UK supermarkets is ‘popped’ here in the UK, however the maize is sourced from several countries, notably the USA, France and Italy.
No. 3 Why does popcorn pop?
  • Popcorn maize is type of corn that it is composed almost entirely of hard starch and has very hard hull (or pericarp) that is capable of withstanding high internal pressures.
  • Following harvesting, raw kernels are dried to an optimum moisture of between 13–14%: The drying process is critical to the production of high quality popcorn, too little or too much moisture and the popcorn will not expand to its full potential.
  • The popping of popcorn is caused by the expansion of the starch and the moisture inside it, eventually causing the hull to burst.
  • Once heated a popcorn expands about 40 times its original size once popped.
  • Approximately 17% of the weight of the raw corn is lost in the popping process.
No. 4 What is the average size for a bag of popcorn in the UK?
  • Popcorn comes in a wide variety of bag sizes and is highly dependent on the type of flavour and product, with toffee or coated products tending to be heavier than salted or sweet & salty products, which are often sold in larger bag sizes by weight.
  • Almost 90% of all popcorn sold in supermarkets is ready-to-eat, with sharing bags accounting for around two thirds of all sales.
  • Multipacks are however becoming more popular, with typical portion sizes ranging between 23-30g dependent on the product type.
No. 5 What are the most popular flavours?
  • In 2016 the most popular popcorn flavours in the UK were “Sweet & Salty”, “Sweet”, “Toffee” and “Salty”: Almost 80% of all popcorn sales come just from these four flavours.
  • Popcorn comes in two basic shapes, ‘butterfly flake’ and ‘mushroom (ball)’. ‘Mushroom’ shaped popcorn is more commonly used for toffee and caramel flavours, whereas ‘butterfly’ is more commonly used for savoury flavours.
No. 6 Isn’t popcorn just empty calories?
  • Popcorn is made from wholegrain maize, and where oil popped manufacturers use oils such as rape seed and sunflower.
  • Popcorn therefore contains all the vitamins, minerals and fibre that you would expect to find found in these raw ingredientsii.
    • Popcorn can contain significant amounts of dietary fibre.
    • Popcorn can also contain Vitamins B3, B9 and Vitamin E
    • Popcorn is also a source of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper, zinc and manganese.

Example of micronutrient and vitamin content of popcorn

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 (correct as of 16 February 2017).

No. 7 Is popcorn a high 'GI' food?
  • The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.
  • Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed, resulting in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels
  • According to the University of Sydney, which maintains the international GI databaseiii, standard popcorn has a rating of 55, which is equivalent to a low (55 or less) GI.  Addition of certain flavours or ingredients may affect the overall GI rating.
No. 8 Does popcorn contain trans-fats?
  • SNACMA members do not use partially-hydrogenated oils (the main source main source of industrially produced trans-fats) in their recipes.
No. 9 Do you use the flavouring diacetyl in any of your products?

SNACMA members do not use this flavouring in any of their products.

No. 10 When is national popcorn day?
  • National Popcorn Day is held every 19 January.

i Various sources, including Kantar World Panel  as reported in The Grocer (30/04/2016), and Mintel ‘Crisps, Savoury Snacks and nuts, UK, January 2017’.

ii United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 (last retrieved 16/02/2017).

iii (last retrieved 30/03/2016).