Have you been thinking of Starting a Kettle Corn Concession Business? This is a great way to make extra money. You can start with a reasonably low investment by buying a used kettle corn machines. Or new machine on the internet for less than $2,000.
Kettle corn is a taste of pioneer history, it is a sweet and salty popcorn treat. The first mention of kettle corn was in the diaries of the Dutch settlers in the Pennsylvania, USA area during the 18th century. Kettle corn is distinctly different from other popcorn treats, due to adding sugar to the oil, the sugar melts in the oil than coats the popcorn. The salt is usually added to the mix after removed from the kettle, so it is more sweet than salty.
I have a kettle corn concession business, we (my wife and I) started in 2002. I want to give you information for starting a kettle corn concession business. It can make you money if you’re willing to work. The kettle corn season is about 7 months of the year. Most of your business will be doing county fairs, parades, craft fairs and festivals. Usually April to October of each year, this could be longer depending on the area you plan to operate, is your best time to operate. And mostly weekends.
Obviously, you decide how many weekends you want to give up. You don’t have to go to every event. Try as many as want then decide which ones worked best for you.
I met a family who sold food at different events every weekend. They didn’t work a Monday thru Friday job. They spent that time cleaning equipment and getting ready for the next weekend event. November through March was their time off.
We started our business to make extra money and a way for our two children (12 and 17 years old at the time) to earn money. It also taught all of us how to deal with customers and business operations.
It can be a lot of fun. Popping the corn creates a show, popcorn flying up like fireworks. Some customers like to talk, which allows us to get to know new people. Other vendors are usually friendly, you get to know them during slow times if there is any. You become friends, because you are doing the concession business.
You see customers every year at events, exciting to see each other and see their children grow. We have been popping at a Christmas tree farm since 2002, we have become a Christmas tradition for some families. When you think about it, it warms your heart thinking you are part of someone’s Christmas tradition.
People approach your tent with a big smile, saying “We were hoping you would be here!”
Have you thought about starting a kettle corn concession business?
Here are My Secrets!
I have been told by customers and friends – “You make the best Kettle Corn I have ever had!”
Let me give you some things to think about.
Business – is there opportunity?
How do you determine if there is a market for kettle corn?
Have you been to festivals and not seen a kettle corn vendor? This will give you an indication there is an opportunity.
How about a Christmas tree farm in your area? Is someone selling kettle corn there?
A fruit / vegetable stand could be another possibility.
You can find a festival near you using www.fairsandfestivals.net. You enter your zip code and the distance you are willing to travel. There are many places to sell kettle corn. Call the event planner to find out if there is a kettle corn vendor at their event. Is there enough room for another?
Schools in your area might have fundraisers, they might let you in. Especially if you are a local business.
Most vendors give 25 – 40% of their sales to the school. It’s up to you what you want to give.
Remember to write off what you give.
I have given 40% to the local school when I pop for them. The parents and school representatives are thrilled to see that much donated.
I don’t want to get into all the details of business licenses, health department and fire department requirements. You need to look into what your county or the county you plan on doing business. You can leave a question below, I will help you get an idea of where to go.
Kettle Corn – they all taste the same
I thought all kettle corn tasted the same until I started making and selling it. And I found some people say they don’t like kettle corn, but love my kettle corn. I have customers drive 2 hours to buy my kettle corn, not bragging. Just the Facts Ma’am!
Every vendor has their way of making kettle corn.
Believe it or not, there are different types of popcorn. There is the kind you buy at the movie theater, butterfly style. There is the kind you should use when making kettle corn, mushroom style.
Pop Weaver, Weaver Popcorn Company, makes Carmel & Sweet Corn (50lb. bag). I used Carmel Sweet for many years. It is my second choice now.
I current use Conagra Foods, Inc., Magic Mushroom (50lb. bag). We get about 10% additional yield by using this product, which adds up in the long run. We get 25 additional small bags per 50lb. bag, another $80 in sales.
We have customers ask, “How do you get such large popcorn?”
If you are looking on Amazon for these items, you can, it will cost you more. You need to find a vendor in your area that sales to concessions. Supplier.Diversity@conagra.com, U.S. Consumer Affairs at 4-800-CANAGRA OR Canadian Consumer Affairs 1-800-461-4556 can help you find a local vendor who sales to concession vendors. These businesses usually deal only with businesses who sell to customers.
The price will vary due to drought, demand, and events like Biodiesel trends. When I started a 50lb. bag was $16, the highest was $59. This was when people were making diesel out of corn oil, new or used. There was also a shortage of corn in the U.S.A. Mid-West because of weather.
This is the cup I use for the raw corn, about 6 cups.
There are a lot of kettle corn vendors who use Soy oil when popping their kettle corn. I prefer corn oil, it has the best result in taste. I have tried different corn base oils, this is what I have found creates the taste causing customers to return. Even calling me the crack dealer.
Think about it. You are adding sugar to the oil, the taste of the oil will be reflected in the kettle corn. I think Soy oil has a different smell and taste in the kettle corn. I notice a strange aftertaste with Soy oil.
There are some who think Soy oil is better for you, if there is, it’s slight. The reason most vendor use it, is cost. Typically, Soy oil costs less than corn oil.
I use ADM oil, 35 lb. jug. Currently, I buy my corn oil at my local Costco. However, not all Costco carry this corn oil. There are 5 Costco’s stores in my area and only one has this product.
I also have people ask why I don’t use peanut oil. There are too many people with peanut allergies, just the smell might hurt some kids.
If you look close you can see a circle in the middle of the oil. There is a cone shape indent rising from the bottom of the kettle, part of the kettle design. I try to leave a dime to quarter size circle, this gives me about the right amount of oil for the 6 cups of popcorn I put in. About 24 ounces. You want the oil to slightly cover the popcorn.
This is the easy part, I think everyone uses table sugar. I buy the 50 lb. bag of sugar from Costco, cheaper compared to the 25 lb. bag. Two bags of popcorn to one 50 lb. bag of sugar.
The ratio is 2:1, popcorn to sugar. When you plan for an event I get a 50 lb. bag of popcorn, 25 lb. bag of sugar (half of 50 lbs.) and a 35 lb. jug of corn oil will produce about $500 of sales. This varies by how many small bags are sold compared to large bags.
I use table salt, a 5lb. bag will last about 10 bags of popcorn. About a cup of salt will cover 10 pops, I use the 80 quart popper with 6 cups of popcorn per pop.
I knew someone who used popcorn salt, which is powder salt. When it hits, hot sugar covered popcorn, it sticks where it hits. Causing some popcorn to have more salt than others, giving a very salty kettle corn taste.
Table salt moves around more, giving a more even flavoring. The salt actually enhances the sugar.
When I started, the people who trained me were at an event and I helped them for a day. They bought their salt in 50lb bags which looked the same as the sugar. I accidentally put the salt in the sugar container. Needless to say we had to throw out the bucket of sugar and the batch of salty popcorn I made. Yuck!!
I use two food grade buckets, with lids. They hold about 25 lbs. of sugar or popcorn. I use them to scoop from when popping. You can find these at restaurant supply stores, we have Smart & Final stores near us that carry them.
I buy all my bags from www.polybagllc.com, Michael Johnson (253) 473-4660. I prefer to have their logo bags, they are more professional looking.
If you don’t want to start with these you can also find poly bags on the internet, look for 1.5 – 2 mil bags. I used clear bags for years. They are usually cheaper without logo.
If you find a location (store, produce stand or market) willing to sell your kettle corn off the shelf (retail), you might need a bag with your contact information. This is determined by the county you are selling the kettle corn.
Michael Johnson will create a plate with your information to add to the “Hand Popped Kettle Corn” logo. These bags also include the ingredient listing on the back side of the bags. Shown above.
Here is the Stock Printed with the “Hand Popped Kettle Corn” Logo:
There are 3 Sizes to choose from. And other items you might want, or need. Prices listed were as of 11.24.2019.
- Small – 8.5 x 12 – $51.75 per 1000
- Medium – 8.5 x 18 – $64.65 per 1000
- Large – 8.5 x 24 – $75.40 per 1000
- Tape Kit – $85.00 Includes Machine, 7 rolls of adhesive/paper tape
- 4″ White or Red paper-covered twist ties – $11.00 per case/2,000
All bags are 1000 in a case. Poly Bag LLC, 4301 S Tacoma Way, Tacoma, WA 98409 253-473-4660
For many years we only made one flavor of kettle corn, in the three sizes. Pricing were-
- Small – $3
- Medium – $5
- Large – $7
The pricing is on the low end for the area I sell, if I was in the State Fair or a pay to get in event the price might be a little higher. This is because the other vendors have a higher price than me, I don’t want to undercut them by too much. Vendors get upset. Of course, you determine what pricing for your area.
Here is a big obvious Secret. When the kettle corn comes out of the kettle, it is hot. The hot sugar will melt the bags, so you need to allow it to cool. I have melted bags because I tried to bag too soon. So when a customer wants a hot bag, it’s actually a warm bag.
You will want some kind of sifter. This allows the kettle corn to cool and the non popped corn to fall away from the corn you will bag. If you decide to use regular popcorn it will break into small pieces, which is not as pleasing to the customer.
A few years ago I added caramel flavor to the menu. I use Glaze Pop, it replaces the sugar.
I get the Caramel Glaze from the same vendor I buy the popcorn. Replace the sugar with the caramel glaze. This box costs me $80, compared to 50 lb. bag of sugar which is $22.50.
You can find a dealer using www.gmpopcorn.com and enter your city.
I charge more for the Caramel flavor kettle corn. I have 2 sizes bags –
- Small – $4.25
- Medium – $7
Kettle corn pricing –
- Small – $3.25
- Large – $7
I also do a mix of kettle corn and caramel. I pop the caramel first, then the kettle corn and mix them in my sifter. I have one size for $9.
With all these options people have a hard time deciding what they want to buy. I have found some people don’t want to make a decision. So I tell them the mix bag which has the best of both.
You also get the higher sell, $9. However, you make more money by percentage when selling a small bag.
In the beginning I dealt in cash only. Now with cell phones and the ability to take credit cards, I have both. Most of your sales will be cash. You don’t want someone walking away because you don’t accept credit cards.
I use the Squire, it is easy to use. They credit my bank account the Monday after the weekend event. They sell a unit that accepts the chip, it costs about $50. Works much better than the cheaper one, and holds a charge.
Looking at how much money you can make. I make the most money from the small bags, it has the higher percentage of profit. I have a location I sell small bags to every week they are open, a vegetable stand, from February to December. I also pop there on special occasions.
Adding the cost of popcorn, corn oil, sugar, salt, bags, and propane your average cost will equate to about 15% of sales, based on the pricing above. This does not include cost to be part of the event – entry fee, permits, or labor (if you bring help).
With the size of kettle I have, the most sales I have in one day was $2,400. And I was tired.
I could use a bigger kettle, more popcorn popped at once. I have found the more I pop, the more the smell gets in the air, drawing more people to our tent.
The amount of sales you can do, is based on traffic.
How many people are attending the event?
There is a rule I follow when determining what my sales will be. It is the 10% rule, of those attending the event 10% will buy food.
Planning for event
How many people have attended in the past? Looking at www.fairsandfestivals.net, they will have last year’s attendance numbers.
You must consider how many other food vendors are at the event. People will buy a hot dog before kettle corn.
So, if there are 1,000 people attending the event 100 will buy food. Average $5 per person buying, therefore with 100 buyers, you will sell $500 of product.
For me that means I need a bag of popcorn (50 lb.), bag of sugar (25 lb.), and jug of corn oil. When I determine how many bags of popcorn I need to take, the other items are a given.
Not all of these 100 people will buy from you, but it’s better to have a little more than run out. I will usually take one extra bag.
As you do the events and keep a record of sales, you will have an idea of what you need for each event. Part of your record should include weather, if it’s raining or hot. Weather effects buying patterns.
I wish I had
When we started, my wife and I, we didn’t have a lot to invest to get started. So we bought our starter equipment setup from www.kettlecornmachine.com, Greg and Darci Sweet. We got the kettle, pop-up tent, two banners, buckets, scoop and cups for popcorn and sugar in a package deal. We added food netting, water jug for hand washing, tables and sifter to the equipment.
I wish we could have purchased a vendor trailer to cook and sell out of. It would cut the time of set-up.
In the area I live, there is someone selling a trailer and equipment. They have developed locations for selling $60,000 per year. Not bad for a part-time job.
This is still hard work. Carrying the bags of popcorn and sugar, 50 lbs. If you have a bad back, this might not suit what you can do.
Study your area. Determine if there is enough business for another kettle corn vendor.
If you have a better tasting product there might be room anyway.
Remember to be friendly.
We have small paper bags for families. You sell the family the large kettle corn bag, give them a paper bag for each child. The parents will love you, might even buy more later. They will definitely come back and look for you next year.
Serve the people and it will come back to you positively.
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If you have read this far, Thank You!
Please leave a comment or question, David