The birth of Opopop started as a joke — kind of.
Jonas Tempel and Bradley Roulier had made their name in the entertainment business, launching and selling an online dance music store and co-owning a Denver nightclub. After selling both, the two entrepreneurs began discussing the potential of starting another business together.
During one conversation, Roulier was eating popcorn while watching sports, and remarked that they could “make popcorn cool again.” While it sounded like a humorous comment at the time, the duo began to take it seriously. It was then that the idea for Opopop was born.
“They started to look at the popcorn category and the lack of innovation, and saw the size of the market and all of the potential,” said Opopop President Sarah McDowell.
Opopop saw a lack of innovation in flavors and packaging from the leading microwave popcorn brands, which it believed was making the category stagnant. The market is currently dominated by Conagra’s Orville Redenbacher and Campbell Soup’s Pop Secret, along with private label options, according to Statista.
Opopop launched its first innovation in 2021: Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels, which it described as the world’s first pre-flavored popcorn kernels. Each individual kernel is coated with flavoring, which allows the popcorn to be flavored as it pops, according to the company.
For the few years before the product launched online, the Opopop team had worked in stealth mode, developing the popcorn to sell to companies for their office spaces. Then, the global pandemic hit.
“We had been developing our Flavor Wrapped Kernels as a part of that earlier [office spaces] project and we were getting feedback that everybody just loved the flavors, like ‘You should just sell these!’
“We had a very pivotal conversation about how we really needed to adjust,” McDowell said.
Snacking boomed during the pandemic as consumers spent much more time at home. This gave Opopop a window to start as an e-commerce brand, selling microwaveable popcorn direct-to-consumer. Since then, its products have also debuted at retailers including Williams Sonoma stores and Foxtrot Market artisanal grocers.
Opopop’s manufacturing facility is located 10 miles south of Denver and staffed by about 20 employees. “We also do all the kitting and shipping out of here, so that takes up quite a bit of room,” McDowell said.
McDowell, who previously worked as a communications manager at General Mills, said that while there’s plans for a larger facility in the future, the company is embracing its status as a startup. Opopop said it offers a “gourmet” alternative to the microwave popcorn brands consumers are used to seeing at the grocery store, pitching itself as a trendy newcomer in a snack category that has not evolved for modern consumers.
Finding the right flavors
The popcorn brand is trying to stand out from competitors with unique flavors. These include varieties like Cinnalicious, which is flavored like cinnamon rolls; Chedapeño, a mix of cheddar and jalapeño; and Maui Heat, a sweet and spicy pineapple blend. In April, Opopop debuted its Wasabi flavor. And last month, the brand launched its dill pickle flavored Pickle Monster.
McDowell said the company sees the flavor development process as fun and organic, and not to be taken too seriously.
“We have a killer butter flavor that can go up against any flavor on the market,” McDowell said. “So we can put new flavors out there and just see how people react to them.”
Beyond its flavoring innovation, Opopop has tried to add an experiential element to the act of preparing and eating popcorn.
This past January, it launched Peel + Pour cups, single-serve packages that contain popcorn kernels with a solid chunk of flavoring inside. The consumer empties the package of kernels into Opopop’s collapsible silicone popper and places it into the microwave. When the kernels are done popping, the consumer shakes the popper to coat the kernels with flavoring.
McDowell said that for the Peel + Pour product, the company opted for more mainstream flavor options, including Like Buddahh (butter), Salted Caramel, Vanilla and Lightly Salted.
“That way we leave our Salted Umami, Wasabi and Chedapeño and Maui Heat for the Flavor Wrapped Kernels — those are more gourmet options,” she said.
Since its launch last summer, the company said it has shipped over 50,000 of its Flavor Wrapped Kernels and 200,000 of its Pop Cups. Opopop has also attracted investors with its innovations, raising nearly $12 million from backers including food veterans like RXBAR founder Peter Rahal to music stars like DJ Tiësto.
There is one thing that could deter the company from becoming a household name in the vein of Orville Redenbacher’s and Pop Secret: its price. Each 320-gram bag of Flavor Wrapped Kernels, which contains 11 servings, is priced at $13.99 to $17.99, a significant increase over less costly grocery store options.
McDowell said that the company acknowledges its premium prices, but that it is targeting consumers who are willing to pay more for quality.
“Our position is that of a premium popcorn brand,” she said.
Another added cost, which Opopop said is recommended to pop each of its popcorn products, is a specialized Popper bowl, which is available on its website for $23.99. Any microwavable popper with a lid is needed to make sure the flavor is properly distributed, according to the brand’s website.
“[The founders] started to look at the popcorn category and the lack of innovation, and saw the size of the market and all of the potential."
The demographic of the Opopop consumer skews younger — Gen Z and millennials, as well as families with kids, McDowell said. The snack brand’s design and wordplay choices, created by Opopop’s in-house branding team, serve to reinforce this.
One way the startup is aiming to win over these consumers is by making the act of interacting with its product fun. For its Wasabi flavor launch, it included chopsticks — what it calls “Popsticks” — within the package.
“I don’t think many people would have ever considered eating popcorn with chopsticks but it’s actually quite fun,” McDowell said. “You eat one kernel at a time so your bowl lasts forever.”
Surprised by its initial success, Opopop has plans for a wider reach. It is planning a wider retail launch at grocery stores to reach new consumers, according to Alec Hopkins, vice president of product and insights. The company also found success in workplaces as an employer holiday gift, something Opopop expects to continue this year.
McDowell credits the “subject matter experts” the startup enlisted — in product development, manufacturing, engineering and branding — as a key reason behind its success.
“When you have the combination of that brain power, you’re able to look at all sides,” she said. “Can we make it taste good? Will it pop the way we want it to? What kind of materials go in the bowl? All those things we had to answer for ourselves.”