PROPERCORN – the popcorn brand that’s redefining growth metrics

Date: 04-11-2016

Tagged as: InnovationStrategyGrowthFundingInvestment


From a standing start in 2011, PROPERCORN has become the snack choice of hipsters and the health conscious. Co-founder, Cassandra Stavrou explains why businesses need to embrace engagement and even encourage competition to grow.

Cassandra Stavrou is co-founder of PROPERCORN, the premium popcorn brand she runs along with co-owner Ryan Kohn. In five years, the pair have achieved a multi-million pound turnover and sales across Europe.

In PwC’s 19th annual global CEO survey, 76 per cent of CEOs agreed that business success in the 21st century will be defined by more than profit1.
So-called softer measures, around technology, innovation and people-processes are becoming increasingly important as the lines between brands and consumers blur.

For fast-growing brand PROPERCORN, these are the new metrics of growth that really matter. “We measure our success in several ways,” says
co-founder Cassandra Stavrou. “Operationally, we measure revenue, share of market, growth rate, sales data and how we’re selling on the shelf compared to other brands. But as important is how engaged our audience is with the PROPERCORN brand through social media, for example.”

Engagement for growth

This focus on customer engagement was demonstrated recently when Twitter was saturated with images of PROPERCORN as the must-have model accessory at London Fashion Week, enhancing the brand’s health and style credentials and boosting its premium stature2.

It’s this level of engagement that has defined PROPERCORN as a true lifestyle brand. “We're not a business that wants to have 30 different flavours all cannibalising each other. It's about creating flavours that play a different role for our customers, a lifestyle brand that understands what they want after lunch, versus after dinner, versus the 3pm pick-me-up.”

Booming snack category

Launched in 2011, PROPERCORN has quickly grown to a team of 40, turning over £10m in 2015 and achieving sales of 3m packets each month across 10 European countries. The brand’s growth has mirrored that of the healthy snack market in the UK, which is driven by increasingly health conscious consumers. While chocolate and crisps declined as the snack of choice for Britons, sales of popcorn have grown by 169 per cent since 2010, reaching an estimated £129m during 20153.

Facing increased competition

That growth has seen an explosion in branded premium popcorn which, Cassandra admits, did create anxiety during the early days of the business. “The boom of healthy snacking saw a big increase in competition. At that point, I went home in floods of tears, thinking ‘Oh no, they’ve done it too’. But actually, competition was the best thing that could have happened, because it creates awareness and grows the category. Then it’s our job to make sure we’re the best.”

“Competition was the best thing that could have happened, because it creates awareness, it grows the category and then it’s our job to make sure we’re the best.”

And Cassandra doesn’t limit her competitors to other popcorn brands. “To remain innovative and creative and to continue to feel fresh as a brand, it’s useful to look outside your category,” she explains. “For example, we consider what we can learn from the tech start-ups and from the way Apple approached their packaging. They’re all consumer-driven and leading on customer engagement.”

A step-change in business ambition

It’s not just in terms of the competition that Cassandra sets her sights high. Her stated aim is to make PROPERCORN the number one global snack brand. Recently securing a £7m investment from Piper (a private equity firm) and JamJar (venture capitalists) and bringing in Innocent co-founder Adam Balon as Chairman is a firm indicator of where PROPERCORN is heading. It marks a step-change for a business originally inspired by a teenage Cassandra’s popcorn machine and a demand for healthy snacks.

“We reached a point where we thought it was the right time to raise a bit of money,” says Cassandra, who had famously quit her job and moved back in with her mum to fund the initial business launch.

“The visibility of the brand meant we had lots of approaches from investors – about 30 in all. We filtered those carefully, based on whether they shared our vision, had relevant experience and whether culturally they were the right tone and fit for PROPERCORN. We eventually got the right one.”

“To remain innovative and creative and to continue to feel fresh as a brand, it’s useful to look outside your category.”

Funding the next stage of growth

It was clearly a two-way street of research and due diligence, with Cassandra relying heavily on “gut instinct” to secure the right funding for the business’ next growth stage.

That growth will see PROPERCORN invest in innovation and new product launches over the next 18 months. The first of these is a new half-popped popcorn, Crunch Corn, which is a first for the European market. “The investment will also allow us to de-leverage the business and expand internationally, where you need to be very front-footed in terms of spend,” says Cassandra.

Within the healthy snack category, analysts are predicting popcorn will continue its phenomenal growth trajectory, with double-digit growth predicted over the next two years4. With the backing to target new territories and fund innovation to appeal to its consumer base, Cassandra is upbeat about PROPERCORN’s future. “We have definitely got more headroom in the UK but also huge opportunities in Europe. That’s more than enough growth for us to target in the next couple of years.”


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