Career & Radar

munchies that pop – wow popcorn

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Scarcely few years ago, popcorn fell into that group of munchies that was only to be eaten while watching movies. Just that explains the availability of popcorn. Now the idea is changing. At the most happening areas, one can see a small kiosk, almost slipping from the plain sight. But believe me, the taste of the popcorn that the booth sells never slips from your memory, makes you crave for more even so. Available in various flavours and packaging, this particular popcorn brand has quickly changed the outlook on having popcorn solely as movie refreshments.

And the one to do all of this is Wow Popcorn Nepal, Nepal’s first gourmet popcorn brand. The following is our conversation with the founder Mr. Subhakar Manadhar.

FIRST THINGS FIRST, WHAT’S ABOUT THE NAME “WOW POPCORN”?

When we were starting out and we let someone taste out popcorn; be it family, friends, colleagues… they all said “wow”. So we just carried the same expression into the name of the brand.

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE THAT THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED TO INVEST YOUR TIME, MONEY, AND YOUR ENERGY IN?

This whole concept was formed when my daughter demanded for cheese popcorn. At that time, popcorn was seen as something to have only while watching movies, and was available in theaters only. I had no other option than to dismiss her demand for popcorn. But, I began to see a new potential.

At that moment, I decided where my investment is required. I knew the ups and downs of trade, I knew who could provide me with machines, and I knew where to import my kernels from. So, we did a research that took us around 1 year to come up with a conclusion, and start this business.

But actually, I had no mood to open an outlet. I started with the intention of only selling packets. But then whimsically, I got two warmers. I knew how to import, from whom to import, so I got the machines imagining them to be big. But they came in smaller sizes which was fortunate for me because, had it been bigger, I wouldn’t get any enthusiasm from the same people who gave me the required space. This was a fairly simple idea. And because of the machine size, we had interests from the keepers and so we have been adding outlets every month, also extending towards cities in Dharan and Chitwan.

As we started off, we had 70% of negative vibes coming from our clients. But that didn’t deter me at all because I knew there was a requirement. We started off last Shree Panchami, and now a year later, we have 40+ outlets. The demand is really good and now people don’t have to go to the movies to just have popcorn.

WERE THERE ANY ADVERSITIES THAT YOU HAD TO FACE WHILE ESTABLISHING YOURSELF AS NEPAL’S FIRST POPCORN BRAND?

Of course, I had some problems initially. This is a 100% risky business. If no one buys my popcorn, I’ll have a huge loss. But if I’m dealing with the youth, risk is pretty much it. At the outset, we got 7% negative vibes. Most people weren’t much confident about this independent popcorn venture. Even after we started out, we got mixed response because it was the same group of people who thought popcorn was something to have while watching movies in a hall.

We have such a market that doesn’t take Nepali commodities well. Someone had our caramel popcorn, it was fine till he ate the popcorn, but once he saw that it’s a Nepalese product, he had things to say. I am a consumer myself, if I’m paying Rs. 50, I expect product worth that money. Therefore, we didn’t see the need to fill the packet with unnecessary air and provide less content. But nope, our market doesn’t care about that. Whether the product inside is worth their money or not, they really like big packets. But we are here to change the trend. I believe in becoming a leader rather than a follower. For instance, Kwiks Cheese Balls is a leader regarding the production of cheese balls. We become the followers once we start cheese balls as well and we’ll look up to them for that matter. Currently, we are the first gourmet popcorn in the country and there are other companies looking up to us. They will be the ones pointing out our flaws, helping us get better as well.

We also had the a tad bit of issue regarding the taste in the early phase. We Nepalese have a different kind of taste; we aren’t a big fan of the sweet taste. When we created this particular caramel flavour and sent it out, that batch went a complete waste. Caramel popcorn normally means popcorn fully coated in caramel. But the market wasn’t having that. So we had to adjust the flavour. It took us around 2 ½ months to make that flavour palatable to the Nepalese taste buds.

On the contrary, the initial caramel flavour was a real hit in the Durbarmarg area due to the expat consumers. However, the cheese flavour wasn’t liked much there.

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WHAT WAS THE MANTRA THAT KEPT YOU GOING?

Not a mantra exactly, but I always felt emptiness regarding this kind of thing. There was a mindset that to have popcorn, one has to go to movies. There wasn’t any other option for the people wanting to enjoy popcorn without movies. So I felt this need to be worked on. This entire idea of starting a gourmet popcorn brand stemmed from when my little daughter asked for cheese popcorn, and now when I tell her about new flavours we are about to launch, she gets excited and really proud. This is also what drives me to do better and work harder.

WOW POPCORN IS GAINING POPULARITY AS WE SPEAK. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE YOUR SUCCESS TO?

Since childhood, I had a dream to do something in the industry. It could have been anything, big or small. I had been doing business for quite some time, I even have a business in the Balaju Industrial Area. It was on an “okay” stage. I started from the bottom and I had reached a certain level. But business never stays at the same point. Nobody knew me, and I felt that I hadn’t given much to the society as well. A fire was always within me regarding business. I tried a lot, but something or the other would always go awry. In the preliminary discussion, the idea would seem small and attainable, but always ended up looking really huge which is why I could never initiate it. The project always got dismissed. But for this project, I didn’t discuss much at home. I started it right away in a small scale (with outlets). Now it’s going in a considerable volume; simply from the outlets, we are selling approximately 1500 kg monthly plus through the retail packets, we are selling around 3 tons. This a really satisfactory level.

Additionally, what made Wow popcorn successful and popular is because of the corn quality. The one we use is called “Mushroom Popcorn” and is mostly used for gaining protein. And the popcorn is round in shape – yet another attraction amongst the teenagers.

AS OF NOW, WOW POPCORN HAS 44+ OUTLETS ACROSS 15+ CITIES. WHAT DO YOU SPECIALLY LOOK FOR WHILE EXPANDING?

Here’s the scenario: You have nothing to invest from your pockets and we install the machine, we do the packaging. Now who wouldn’t like it? This is what we look for. We search for owners who are willing to provide us with their space. But not just space; we also look for a “good place”, the one with higher amount of our target consumer groups incoming. Since our product is categorically loved by youngsters, we mandatorily establish ourselves in places where they hang out the most. We first started with two machines, one in Ranjana Galli and the other in Durbarmarg’s Wimpy. After seeing us there, Salesberry approached us asking to locate in various places, then we got five more machines. And since then we have been expanding on an average of one every month. The most interesting part of this whole expansion process is that everybody wants to sell it, despite of the pilot response.

Popcorn without having to go to the movies is a relatively new concept and the market now demands for packaged products rather than the outlet ones.

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WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR FUTURE?

Popcorn without having to go to the movies is a relatively new concept and the market now demands for packaged products rather than the outlet ones. So in the snack section especially for the kids, we will be releasing cheese balls, cheese rings, and multigrain products. Also, we have new popcorn flavours coming up like Butter Scotch and Spice-Caramel. The Spice-Caramel flavour seems quite promising because when my friends and family tasted it, we had fairly positive reviews. The ideas are developing, the installation has been completed so we are hoping to finish the projects within Baishakh.

You have only seen single kiosk till date but soon we are planning to have our own popcorn parlor in which only premium flavours will be available. This too, we are shooting for Baishakh. I felt this necessity to establish self-owned parlor because we hardly get to experiment with our flavours. We have to sell our popcorn flavours according to the outlet owners. When we ask them to put up our new flavours, sometimes they get reluctant saying only particular flavour has good business in the outlet. If we establish our own kiosk, there will be people wanting other flavours as well. Whatever we do, we do it to cater our consumers’ wants.

Interviewed by Abhigya Subedi | Photographed by Gaurav Xhompate Sunuwar

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