It is almost impossible to have missed the trend towards plant-based products in recent years, and also towards protein-based diets – such as those popularised by bloggers including Deliciously Ella.

Equally, there has been a rapid increase in demand for ready-to-eat popcorn – value sales up 17.7% over the 52 weeks ending 2 October 2016, according to IRI – with global sales forecast to rise by an average of 7% per year for the next few years – fuelled by the launch of exciting and exotic new flavours as well as fitting into the ever-growing demand for on-the-go snacking. According to IRI, it was maple flavour that boasted the highest dollar growth percentage for ready-to-eat popcorn, at +22.0 percent, followed by cinnamon (+15.4 percent), and cheese (+13.9 percent), particularly cheddar cheese.  The industry regards constant and on-trend flavour innovations as crucial to keeping ready-to-eat popcorn as one of the top drivers of growth for total snacks.

So if you were to combine the two trends, an explosion of sales could be expected.  This is what Brooklyn-based Proformance Foods believes will happen thanks to the launch of its Protes branded, flavoured, ready-to-eat plant-based protein popcorn. The company believes it is not just offering a different flavour – something it feels has been the extent of the innovation within the category in recent years – but genuinely moving the category forward.

Protein-based snacks used to primarily be the purview of fitness enthusiasts looking for a quick energy burst – body builders apparently being a core consumer group. Indeed this is the origin for Proformance Foods which currently sells a protein chip targeted at fitness enthusiasts, but with the introduction of its new product – a whey protein isolate, air-popped, wholegrain, non-GMO, lower fat, guilt-free popcorn – it believes it is ready to take the mainstream market by storm.

Consumers – particularly millennials – are increasingly concerned about global warming and the Earth’s finite resources, and believe that this demands a shift toward a more plant-based diet. Many also are concerned about the treatment of farm animals and are interested in replacing meat, dairy, and eggs with plant proteins.  According to diet and lifestyle gurus such as Deliciously Ella, protein is a macronutrient which is required in relatively large quantities to keep healthy, but that is not stored within the body. Thus, as there is no reserve for when we are running low, regular intake – including snacks – is vital in order for the body to function at peak efficiency. Proformance Foods’ new protein product delivers 10g of protein per serving, a level it believes offers the minimum level to make consumption worthwhile, and in a convenient ready-to-go format.

Currently the offering from Proformance comprises relatively ‘normal’ flavours as far as popcorn goes – no coconut caramel or cheddar caramel flavours are on offer, at least as yet. Instead there is a white cheddar or cinnamon version on sale.  So far, according to the company, the reaction to the product has been extremely positive, with retailers welcoming it for both its taste and its sales proposition.

The ready-to-eat popcorn category has been regularly pushing boundaries in recent years, riding high on the belief that it offers a healthy eating option. Always a traditional part of the American diet, sales had suffered due to its perception as an unhealthy food choice, but manufacturers have – thanks mainly to the introduction of convenient packaging and exciting new flavours – managed to reinvent the wheel. This latest twist may be the one that shoots sales into the stratosphere.