Popcorn Entrepreneur Markets the Flavors of Childhood

profile_Publicity_photo by Katherine Gustafson on June 16, 2014
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Popcorn is all the rage across the pond, and Greg Taylor’s unusual popcorn company, Retrocorn, based in Essex, England, is putting a new spin on the U.K.’s latest snacking obsession. Taylor’s strategy: Infusing the snack with nostalgic candy flavors to help capture a growing corner of the market.

Retrocorn joins two comfort foods, popcorn and crushed English hard candies such as Cherry Pips and Lemon Sherbets. His winning strategy is to tap into his customers’ nostalgia for childhood.

Hard candies — called “boiled sweets” in the U.K. — are as English as afternoon tea. Their distinctive flavors, such as rhubarb and custard, cola, and pear can trigger a flood of happy memories in young and old alike.

“We’re trying to play on nostalgia,” says Taylor. “It’s about bringing it back to our childhoods. They’re things I was eating as a boy and that my parents were eating when they were children…. I remember my Nan having a big jar of rhubarb and custard in the cupboard.”

Starting up in Grandma’s Kitchen

Taylor started the company in November 2013 after 15 years in hospitality management. During his search for a new venture, a contact at a specialty food store suggested he sell caramel popcorn. The idea sparked Taylor’s creativity.

He commandeered his 87-year-old grandmother’s kitchen, where he began mixing up batches of his 11 flavors, which include strawberries and cream, banana and toffee, dandelion and burdock, and licorice. Since his start in November, he has sold some 660 pounds of candied popcorn, all the while accumulating commercial equipment in his garage for his company’s eventual expansion.

Retrocorn sells to two U.K. hotel chains and a luxury apartment company in Holland, which use the treats as welcome gifts and gift shop wares. The little bags of nostalgic crunch make attractive treats to offer guests.

“It’s a fairly inexpensive product,” says Taylor. “It’s colorful, it’s quirky, it’s something new.”

Retrocorn’s website provides another outlet for sales, as does a partnership with Mr. Simms, the U.K.’s top candy retailer, where Taylor sells under the shop’s brand name. He hopes to get Retrocorn into movie theater concession stands and also start branching out to the rest of Europe, Asia, and the United States.

Marketing to Nostalgia

Taylor’s marketing efforts focus on speaking to customers’ fond memories of childhood and its sticky-sweet flavors. His popcorn bags bear the caption, “Opening each bag releases a little whoosh of happy memories. As delicious and exciting as your first kiss.”

“It’s all about being young, remembering those flavors, remembering good things when you were a child,” says Taylor. “It’s trying to tie that all in together without being too serious. The product’s fun, and you don’t want to lose sight of that. It’s a bit tongue in cheek.”

To that end, a recent publicity photo shoot for the company (pictured above) featured models in 1950s-era dresses cavorting with bags of his popcorn in bowling alleys and forest glades.

His own enthusiasm for the product helps him maintain that sense of fun. He advises entrepreneurs  looking to tap into customers’ fond childhood memories in their marketing efforts to cultivate passion for their product.

“Believing in the product can make things easier,” he says. “You’ve got that nostalgia inside you to bring it to the market.”

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Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington, who loves writing about small business and entrepreneurship. Her first book, Change Comes to Dinner, explores the way entrepreneurs and other visionaries—from greenhouse innovators to no-till wheat farmers—are changing the business of food.

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