A kernel of truth about popcorn

June 25, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Pop quiz:

What's the favorite food snack of college students?

Hint: It's not popcorn.

A survey of 1,726 college students by the Snack Food Association and National Potato Promotion Board said that - surprise! - potato chips are by far the most popular snack for college men and women.

But don't smash that air popper just yet. Popcorn proved to be the second most popular snack for women, with 16 percent of the vote. For men, popcorn ranked third behind tortilla chips, tied with party mix and snack crackers.


And it's a big business, grown far beyond the endless cascade of kernels flowing from movie theater hoppers into bags dripping with melted butter. Last year, says Snack Food Association vice president of communications Ann Wilkes, $1.27 billion was spent on 453.9 million pounds of microwave popcorn alone, with another $466.9 million shelled out for ready-to-eat popcorn.

After an early '90s health kick, consumers seem to have shifted away from low-fat popcorn to the tastier, more decadent butter drenched options.

"People decided they were eating as much as they wanted and couldn't figure out why they weren't losing weight," Wilkes says. "So they decided to eat what they want and watch the portion more."

Taste is but one way popcorn is jumping into the new millennium to compete for a fickle youth market. Following in the footsteps of multi-colored ketchups, Wilkes says snack food maker Herr's has a cheddar popcorn that turns the tongue green while eating it.

And it doesn't stop there. In the downtown Hancock snack shop he owns with his wife, Ron LaVelle pops a special blend of flavored popcorns - 40 and counting - that puts the variety at Baskin Robbins to shame.

There's blueberry glaze, strawberry, various cheeses, banana, jalapeno and bacon cheddar. There's Maryland crab, drizzle (caramel and chocolate fudge), vanilla, fruit mix and nacho.

While younger kids gravitate to sweeter varieties of popped corn, LaVelle says teens tend to opt for saltier flavors, including vinegar and Cajun creations.

"Kids in general have been brought up with popcorn through the years. It doesn't matter if they're rich or poor, there's been popcorn on the table. Mom eats it, dad eats it. You go to the ballpark and eat it. You go to the theater and eat it," LaVelle says. "Everybody loves popcorn."

The Herald-Mail Articles