With the variety of organic foods available in supermarkets, a shopper might not have noticed that microwave popcorn was missing from shelves, like the Kristy and Coulter Lewis did about five years ago.
Quinn Popcorn, an all-natural snack, came to fruition two years ago in Boston. The Darien natives, who grew up eating popcorn, were sure that some one had product created a chemical-free version by the time they thought of it, or that it was too complicated to be. “It didn’t seem like it was possible,” Coulter said, “there must be a reason why the product was always this way.”
Their suspicion about the staple snack was reasonable because the traditional popcorn bag has amassed several chemical components since 1973, when the Pillsbury Company first filed for a patent on a microwave popcorn package.
When Kristy was pregnant, her doctor suggested that she stay away from microwavable popcorn. Various chemicals in traditional popcorn and in the bags are linked to birth defects. The birth of their son gave them a push to take on the challenge of creating something new.
They brought the idea to manufacturers and suppliers, and worked with experts to create the first chemical-free microwavable bag. The “pure pop bag” is made solely out of paper and is compostable. Quinn Popcorn bags do not have perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, or a susceptor, chemicals that line the bag and prevent burned kernels and force even flavor distribution. The Lewises also had to go to farmers to find the best organic kernels.
“It took a year to pull it together,” Coulter said. “Piece by piece, phone call by phone call, finding out how microwave popcorn works.”
Their manufacturers would not supply a product in small quantities so the Lewises needed funding. Their first stop was a campaign to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter, an online fundraising website. They received $27,880 from 755 people by August 9, 2011. This was their first step into public. “Internally we thought it was a crazy idea,” Coulter said. “It was really out there. We didn’t bring it up and share our thoughts.”
With Kickstarter, “it either was going to resonate or it wasn’t,” he said, “it was terrifying.”
Popping the organic kernels is an experience that allows the consumer to choose the amount of flavor. Expeller pressed canola oil, extracted by a chemical-free process, and hormone-free flavors replace hydrogenated oil, artificial butter and preservatives known to coat bags and eventually the corn puffs. After the bag comes out of the microwave, you pour the oil and spices in to your taste.
Quinn Popcorn currently offers three flavors: parmesan and rosemary, Vermont maple and sea salt, and lemon and sea salt. In their kitchen, the Lewises selected these unique flavor pairs, and even now, the process is “very much still us and a couple of bins of spice.” On the website, the team invites customers to suggest flavors.
For the test batches, family members and friends received popcorn kits and cameras to record how they made the popcorn, Kristy said. The cameras were necessary so that their loved ones would not sugar coat the truth. They watched the different facial expressions and methods from their family and used it as feedback.
The pair also worked with Whole Foods to get feedback on the flavors. None of the original flavors were ever produced. “We learned a ton about what sounds good and what tastes good,” Kristy said.
“We started doing in store demos,” she said. “Standing at Whole Foods explaining the product.” They brought the product to two of the chain’s stores in Massachussetts. The all-natural product now stocks shelves in Whole Foods and independent supermarkets nationwide, including in their hometown of Darien.
This year, Quinn Popcorn won “Best New Food Product” for their parmesan and rosemary flavor, at the Natural Products Expo East. They also won a “Start Small Go Big” award, sponsored by Daily Candy, a fashion, food and lifestyle website.
“Quinn Popcorn came about as the result of our passion for food and value for all things natural,” Coulter said. “Any awards help us see that others agree.”