Angie and Dan Bastian, husband and wife co-founders of kettle corn snack company BOOMCHICKAPOP, delivered the keynote speech to students and faculty in Robertson Auditorium at the 2019 Michigan Marketing Symposium on Thursday. The talk, moderated by Business lecturer Marcus Collins, focused on how the company disrupted the snack industry to fit with the symposium’s overall theme of disruption.
BOOMCHICKAPOP started in the Bastians’s Mankato, Minnesota, garage in 2001 to pop kettle corn for carnivals, local markets and events. The company was acquired in 2017 by Conagra Foods for $250 million. The couple began popping kettle corn to build a college fund for their two daughters, then 3 and 5 years old.
“We were trying to figure out if there was a solution to creating a college fund for our kids outside of what we were doing,” Dan Bastian said. “It was an $8,000 investment, you got a kettle, you got a tent. So, we set it up outside, turned on the kettle and started schlepping the corn.”
The Bastians sold kettle corn at local events and markets but made a breakthrough when they started selling at Minnesota Vikings trainings.
“They loved it enough that the sales and marketing team came over the next day and offered as a contract to be the kettle corn of the Vikings, with the caveat that it costs a grand,” Dan Bastian said. “We were excited that we could make some inroads, realizing that if we got connected with the Vikings that will help build our outreach to other potential customers. … We would pop right outside the stadium … and have lines of people. And that’s when things kind of started to change for us.”
While moving into retail, the Bastians found a space for a popcorn targeting women. The brand focuses on using clean ingredients and empowering female consumers, aiming to encourage them to have a positive relationship with food.
“We went in 2004 and we looked at what was popcorn called,” Angie Bastian said. “At the time on grocery store shelves popcorn was Vick’s, Orville, Dale and Thomas, Harry and David, Cracker Jack. This is my punch line. I said every time, I said to Dan, ‘Where are the popcorn-women on the shelf?’ So, we named it Angie’s, created a small label and started out with just a plain cellophane bag with a label on it and started to sell in stores.”
Angie said she felt the company truly disrupted the popcorn and snacking industry when it began working with salespeople and marketers to target female consumers. While snacks targeting men were permissive and those marketed toward children and adolescents were playful, Angie Bastian said snacks targeting women assumed they were on diets — a marketing technique she wanted to avoid.
“Our sales team said, ‘Why don’t we just do it?’ ‘Angie’s Nearly Naked’ or ‘Angie’s Skinny’ or something like that, because that’s what was happening in the marketplace at the time,” Angie Bastian said. “I’ll just say at that point there were 72 trademarks for food with the word ‘skinny.’ And I just said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do that, like, we are not going to do that.’”
In the wider food industry, Angie Bastian added, advertising and marketing toward women is either hypersexualized or focused on dieting. Her goal was to remove the barrier between women and snacking built up by marketers.
“Women and food were depicted in a couple of ways, and one of those ways was a ‘moment of conflict,’” Angie Bastian said. “If a woman is going to eat, it’s conflictual for her, or it’s sexualized for her, and we are not like this. This is going to be food for women every day: normal, natural.”
Business graduate student Georgia Cassady, one of the vice presidents of the Marketing Symposium, said her team wanted to focus on finding a disruptor in the consumer-packaged goods industry. The Business school emphasizes the Consumer Packaged Goods industry for marketing recruiting, she said, but the industry is sometimes perceived as stagnant and slow-moving.
“A lot of people think it’s an industry that’s just chugging along,” Cassady said. “Tech is the big thing these days, but we wanted to remind people that there’s opportunity for change and disruption within CPG and all types of marketing, regardless of the industry you’re going into. … Since we’re all going to be managers after our MBAs, how can you continue to disrupt and challenge the status quo?”
Cassady said the Bastians were able to disrupt a seemingly stagnant industry like snacking while providing an empowering brand for women.
“Right when you think that snacking, and especially popcorn, that there’s not much more you can do, that there’s so many people in the industry, these people came in with a brand that was entirely new,” Cassady said. “One of the big things was that Orville Redenbacher, SmartPop, they were all kind of masculine. So, they came in with this really feminine brand and that was really different.”
Dan Bastian said BOOMCHICKAPOP’s early success came from long hours of work and dedication to the brand, along with fast adaptation to obstacles they faced entering the CPG industry.
“I think so many people get stuck on needing to nail it, perfect it,” Dan Bastian said. “For us, just continuing to move forward was what worked for us. Our success lies oftentimes in the fact that we move fast. We didn’t take shortcuts, but we would adjust on the fly, and if we made mistakes or had challenges, we would revisit and fix it and keep moving forward.”