Joe & Seph’s popcorn: Cinema, airlines and duty free give explosive brand exposure

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Joe & Seph's co-founder: 'We’re quite precious about our brand and we don’t want to be in every outlet up and down the country'
Joe & Seph's co-founder: 'We’re quite precious about our brand and we don’t want to be in every outlet up and down the country'

Related tags Popcorn

UK gourmet popcorn maker Joe & Seph’s has secured listings with World Duty Free and Cineworld, adding to its airline presence – channels its co-founder says spark unprecedented brand attention.

The company secured listings on Easy Jet and Thomson Airways earlier this year and already worked with British Airways. World Duty Free distribution would roll out in Heathrow Terminal 5 over the next two weeks, while Cineworld stocked its products across its entire UK network four weeks ago, following a nine-month trial across 12 stores.

Founded in 2010, the popcorn maker also retailed in a number of premium outlets across the globe, including John Lewis food halls and select Waitrose stores, Harrods, Selfridges, Whole Foods and a large number of hotels and restaurants, including Claridge’s.

Untraditional outlets like airlines, duty free and cinemas were the perfect place to position premium popcorn snacks, said Adam Sopher, co-founder of Joe & Seph’s.

“We’re quite precious about our brand and we don’t want to be in every outlet up and down the country, we want to be in the ones that present the product in the right way and at the right price,”​ he told

Better brand exposure

Listing with airlines and in cinemas and duty free was a double-win – for Joe & Seph’s but also the outlets involved, he said.

Joe & Seph's has 40 gourmet popcorn varieties
Joe & Seph's has 40 gourmet popcorn varieties

“The power of airlines is huge… On a plane, people are sitting there flicking through brochures, so the brand exposure is huge – you’ll get noticed more being on an airline than being in 100 retailers,”​ he said. 

Similarly, numbers were big on airlines and footfall strong through World Duty Free.

Compared to regular retailers, the focus was totally different, Sopher said. “If you’re in grocery, it’s about price, listing fees and promotion. Everyone is on promotion in grocery, so if you’re not on promotion your products won’t sell. While on airlines and these other listings, it’s more about getting the listing and keeping it. Once you’re in, it trades quite well and it’s less promotion-focused.”

Airline listings provided good turnover because of volumes, he said, and cinemas were core because of the natural association with popcorn consumption. 

Enables them to differentiate

For airlines, particularly budget companies, stocking premium snacks enabled differentiation in a competitive marketplace where customer satisfaction was key, Sopher said. It also made sense financially to stock premium, he said, because space was sparse on airlines.

Asked why Joe & Seph’s had bucked the trend of targeting premium outlets and listed with budget airlines Easy Jet and Thomson, he said: “It’s a good question. It almost sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s a really interesting reason. When you fly Easy Jet, for example, they’ve really changed their offering to include things from far more independent brands, and the price points are actually quite affordable. So actually, our brand fits really well in that brochure.” 

Joe & Seph's is available in Cineworld across the UK but also in a number of smaller, independent cinema groups
Joe & Seph's is available in Cineworld across the UK but also in a number of smaller, independent cinema groups

For Cineworld, stocking Joe & Seph’s popcorn was the perfect combination alongside its own sweet and salty variants, he continued.

“Our popcorn appeals to quite a different audience… it’s a female audience aged 20-40 years, as opposed to the salty, sweet which often will be purchased by men and a younger target market.”

Ready to upscale for demand?

Joe & Seph’s claimed the four listings with Cineworld, Easy Jet, Thomson Airways and World Duty Free would see its products reach an additional 100 million consumers. The company, therefore, had recently invested heavily in scaling up operations at its London facility where it manufactured and packed a range of 40 popcorn varieties.

“For packaging, we’ve grown about 40% this year in terms of capacity and with our kitchen facility; we’ve invested quite a lot of money in machinery which enables the kitchen to produce a good chunk more. We also increased the size of it by about 25% this summer,”​ he said.

The company would upscale production next year by a further 50%, he added.

“We never want to outsource production or packing… The way that we produce is we’ve got a great team of chefs who are able to scale the level of production and packaging we do. Certainly, we’re not going to be a business that overnight goes into 1,000 Tesco or Sainsbury’s stores, but we’ve built the business taking on a nice chunky piece of business every two months and built it sustainably like that,”​ he said.

Future growth strategy 

Adam Sopher (pictured right) is a co-founder with his parents
Adam Sopher (pictured right) is a co-founder with his parents

Sopher said the company’s export business – currently representing around 18% - would be a critical growth driver in the future as it looked to strengthen European presence and worked to drive penetration further in countries like China, where it already had listings across 50 stores.

Asked if Joe & Seph’s would consider targeting large retailers, he said: “No, I just don’t think it is right for us. We have such a good business in premium businesses all over the world and to spread ourselves thin into grocers doesn’t make sense.”

Related topics Manufacturers Snacks Diversification

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