National Popcorn Day Celebrates More Than a Snack

National Popcorn Day Celebrates More Than a Snack

While October is Popcorn Month – officially National Popcorn Poppin’ Month – Jan. 19 is Popcorn Day. And why not? The U.S. is the No. 1 producer and consumer of popcorn, to the tune of more than $3.5 billion in 2023. That number is expected to grow to more than $4.6 billion by 2028.

It is also one of the nation’s oldest agricultural products and may well be the original snack food. In a county consumed by the consumption of snacks that is no small honor. And people have been eating popcorn since before European settlers crossed the Atlantic for the New World. The Iroquois popped corn kernels in pottery jars filled with heated sand. But it was in the 1890s that a Chicago candy store owner named Charles Cretors modified a peanut roaster and built the first commercial popcorn popping machine.

Since then, the salty and buttery snack has become a staple of the American diet – and an important piece of the nation’s economic landscape. As part of the overall food and agricultural products industries, popcorn adds its fair share to the $8.6 trillion the sector contributes to the overall economy, accounting for 20% of the national economic output.

Most of the popcorn produced in the U.S. comes from just five states: Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. It’s popularity is such that several cities lay claim to the title Popcorn Capitol of the World, including two in Indiana – Valparaiso and Van Buren – as well as Schaller, Iowa; North Loup, Nebraska; and Marion, Ohio. The last is also famous as the home of the 29th President of the United States Warren G. Harding.

While popcorn has been eclipsed by several other favorites on the snack food Top 10 – behind cookies, crackers, potato chips, nuts and pretzels – its popularity is evident by the wide variety of popcorn-related products and the myriad ways hungry consumers can get their snack fix.

Since the clay pot days of Native Americans, popcorn technology has transformed to stovetop methods, electric poppers, air poppers and the iconic microwave variety. Food scientists are already working on even more advanced ways to fill a popcorn bowl with research on infrared cooking. If building a better mousetrap meant the world would beat a path to your door, then a better popcorn popper will have the world following you all the way to the bank.

Popcorn has even survived the ebbs and flows of American dietary changes, managing to be seen as not only a tasty treat, but a fairly nutritious food. In many ways, it is a bellwether snack and its continuing growth in production and sales bodes well for the future.

As the year unfolds and economists, analysts and consumers keep a close eye on the state of the economy, they might as well grab a big bag of popcorn while they watch. Despite its humble beginnings, popcorn is not only as American as apple pie, but also a staple of the food and agricultural sector. And what represents the spirit of worker productivity more than the aroma of slightly burnt microwave popcorn in the employee break room?