Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.
David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.
Updated on May 16, 2023
$3,300 - $7,350
$62,000 - $312,000 p.a.
Time to build
0 – 3 months
$44,000 - $93,600 p.a.
How to Start a Popcorn Business
Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Hone Your Idea
Brainstorm a Popcorn Business Name
Create a Popcorn Business Plan
Register Your Business
Register for Taxes
Fund your Business
Apply for Popcorn Business Licenses and Permits
Open a Business Bank Account
Get Business Insurance
Prepare to Launch
Build Your Team
Run a Popcorn Business - Start Making Money!
Popcorn Business FAQs
Did you know that Americans eat 15 billion quarts of popcorn a year? Popcorn is also popular around the globe, and as bold flavors like chocolate, jalapeno and peanut butter gain ground, the industry is set to nearly double by 2031. You could get in on this action by starting your own popcorn business, which could be home-based, a cart, or a gourmet shop. Whichever you choose, you can spread joyful deliciousness while making a good living.
But before you start popping away, you would be wise to familiarize yourself with the entrepreneurial process. Luckily, this step-by-step guide lays out everything you need to know to launch a successful popcorn business.
Looking to register your business? A limited liability company (LLC) is the best legal structure for new businesses because it is fast and simple.
Number of people employed – In 2021, the US popcorn production industry employed 3,948 people.
Trends and challenges
Trends in the popcorn industry include:
Franchises like Doc Popcorn are expanding rapidly, offering bold flavors like apple crisp and dill pickle. Opening a franchise store could be an option, though an online business requires much less investment.
Gluten-free and non-GMO popcorn is growing in demand. Those products are also innovating and creating unique flavors.
Challenges in the popcorn industry include:
Supply chain issues are creating challenges in the timely delivery of popcorn to international customers.
Rising prices are eating into the profit margins of popcorn businesses, causing them to raise their prices.
How much does it cost to start a popcorn business?
Startup costs for a popcorn business range from $3,300 to $7,300 if you’re starting an online popcorn business from home. Costs include a commercial popcorn machine, packaging materials, and ingredients.
If you start a popcorn cart, you can add $2,500 to $5,000 to those totals. A popcorn shop will cost at least $20,000 more.
You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your popcorn business, including:
Oils and salts
Bags and labels
Toppings and seasonings
Setting up a business name and corporation
$150 - $200
Business licenses and permits
$100 - $300
Business cards and brochures
$200 - $300
$1,000 - $3,000
Commercial popcorn machine
$1,000 - $1,500
Packaging and labeling supplies
$250 - $750
Initial supply of ingredients
$500 - $1,000
$3,300 - $7,350
How much can you earn from a popcorn business?
The average price of a bag of prepared popcorn is about $5. Larger bags can cost $7 to $12. These calculations will assume an average price of $6. Your profit margin after ingredients and packaging should be high, around 70%.
In your first year or two, you could work from home and sell 200 bags per week, bringing in $62,000 in annual revenue. This would mean nearly $44,000 in profit, assuming that 70% margin. As your brand gains recognition and you ramp up your marketing efforts, sales could climb to 1000 bags a week. At this stage, you’d rent a commercial space with more equipment and hire staff, reducing your profit margin to around 30%. With annual revenue of $312,000, you’d still make a strong profit of $93,600.
What barriers to entry are there?
There are a few barriers to entry for a popcorn business. Your biggest challenges will be:
Funding the startup costs if you purchase a cart or open a shop
Having adequate space in your home if you start an online business
Related Business Ideas
If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
Now that you know what’s involved in starting a popcorn business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.
Why? Identify an opportunity
Research popcorn businesses in your area and online to examine their products, price points, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the market is missing a gourmet kettle corn business, or a gourmet popcorn shop or cart.
You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as gluten-free popcorn or savory popcorn.
This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your products or services
You’ll just need to come up with a list of popcorn recipes you want to make. In addition to bags of popcorn, you could sell popcorn in decorative tins for higher prices.
How much should you charge for popcorn?
Prices for bags of popcorn range from $5 to $12 based on the size of the bag. After the costs of ingredients and packaging, you should aim for a profit margin of about 70%.
Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
Your target market is nearly 80% of the US population plus the global community if you want to sell internationally, so you should spread out your marketing to include sites like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. You could also try to get local markets to put your popcorn on their shelves. You can find market owners on LinkedIn or call them directly. You can find them on Google or Yelp.
Where? Choose your business premises
In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent a popcorn making facility or a shop space. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
Central location accessible via public transport
Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Step 3: Brainstorm a Popcorn Business Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
Including keywords, such as “popcorn” or “gourmet popcorn”, boosts SEO
Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Pop-N-Goodness” over “Vegan Popcorn Haven.”
Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.
Step 4: Create a Popcorn Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to popcorn businesses.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your popcorn business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)– Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a popcorn business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.
Step 8: Apply for Popcorn Business Licenses and Permits
Starting a popcorn business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments. For starters, you should check the cottage food laws of your state to see what’s required for a popcorn business. Some states require that you attend a food safety class and pass health inspections.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your popcorn business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
Step 11: Prepare to Launch
As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.
You may want to use industry-specific software, such as LS Retail, Vend, or Retail Pro, to manage purchasing, inventory, and invoicing.
If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
Develop your website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.
You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.
Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness.
Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area.
Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Buy Now.” This can sharply increase purchases.
Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
Take advantage of your website, social media presence, and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:
In-Person Sales – Offer your popcorn at local markets.
Post a video – Post a video about your popcorn. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!
Limited edition – Offer a one-time version of your popcorn.
Press releases – Do press releases about new products, sales, etc.
Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
Pay–per-click marketing – Use Google AdWords to perform better in searches. Research your keywords first.
Influencer marketing – Pay people with large social media followings to promote your popcorn. You can find micro-influencers with smaller followings and lower rates.
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that set it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your popcorn business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your popcorn business could be:
The wildest popcorn flavors you’ve ever tasted
Gluten-free, non-GMO gourmet popcorn – you won’t believe the taste!
Holiday tins of the tastiest gourmet popcorn, the perfect gift!
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a popcorn business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in popcorn for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in popcorn. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business.
Step 12: Build Your Team
If you’re starting out small from a home kitchen, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a popcorn business include:
Popcorn Makers – assist with making popcorn
Popcorn Packagers – package popcorn for sale and shipping
General Manager – ordering, accounting
Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Run a Popcorn Business – Start Making Money!
Popcorn is a fabulous treat that’s still growing in popularity, with the industry poised to nearly double in the coming years. You can get in on that booming market by starting your own popcorn business, getting creative with some bold and interesting flavors and spreading delicious joy — all while making great money.
You’re off to a great start, having learned the business launch process, so it’s time to turn on that popper and start building your popcorn empire!
Popcorn Business FAQs
Can an online popcorn business be profitable?
Yes, profit margins for an online popcorn business are high. The key is to create unique flavors that will stand out in a competitive market.
How much should I charge for my gourmet popcorn?
Prices for bags of prepared popcorn range from $5 to $12, depending on the size of the bag. You can also sell larger tins for more.
Are popcorn stands profitable?
Popcorn stands can be profitable, but success depends on factors like location, competition, pricing, product quality, and customer demand. Strategic placement in high-traffic areas, offering a variety of flavors and toppings, and providing exceptional customer service can contribute to profitability.
How can I differentiate my popcorn business from competitors in the market?
To differentiate your popcorn business from competitors, consider unique flavors or combinations that aren’t commonly available. Experiment with gourmet or exotic flavors, and offer customizable options for customers.
How can I handle sales and distribution of my popcorn products?
Establishing your popcorn stand in a high-traffic location can attract walk-in customers. Additionally, consider partnering with local businesses, such as movie theaters, event venues, sports arenas, or gourmet shops, to sell your products.
How can I package and present my popcorn products attractively?
Consider using eye-catching packaging with attractive designs that reflect your brand. Use quality materials that keep the popcorn fresh and crispy. Include clear labels with enticing descriptions of flavors and ingredients.
What is the most popular popcorn flavor?
Classic flavors like buttered popcorn, caramel, and cheddar cheese are generally well-liked. Other popular flavors include kettle corn, chocolate drizzle, spicy flavors like jalapeño, and sweet varieties like cinnamon sugar or toffee.