Concession stands to a gourmet brand: Vikas Suri’s journey from PVR to building Popcorn & Company
After supplying popcorn machines, kernels, and seasonings to PVR and restaurants, Vikas Suri launched gourmet brand Popcorn & Company in 2017, which is becoming a favourite among consumers.
A movie night — be it at the local theatre, a fancy multiplex or even from the comfort of your own couch — can only be made better with a giant tub of popcorn.
But have you ever wondered who brought these concession stands to the likes of PVR Cinemas?
Meet Vikas Suri, a hospitality veteran of over four decades, who has been driving the popcorn concession stands at PVR Cinemas since the early 2000s when the company launched its first multiplex in Saket, New Delhi.
In the conversation with SMBStory, 53-year-old Vikas narrates his entrepreneurial journey spanning over two decades that began from setting up a commercial kitchen equipment business to launching a gourmet popcorn brand.
He says, “I started my career by working with Oberoi Hotels in the 90s. Then, I started working with a German company that dealt in food processing, frozen foods, and commercial kitchen equipment globally. In the mid-90s, I moved to the US to further hone my skills in the sector.”
Vikas began his entrepreneurial journey with Kitchenrama in 1996, a prominent commercial kitchen provider in India, serving major players in the Indian cinema industry including PVR, Cinepolis, INOX, Gopalan, Wave Cinemas, among others.
The company also serves leading restaurant chains like Taj Hotels, ITC, Lemon Tree, Marriot Hotels, Le Meridian, and more.
In 2017, to diversify business operations and directly reach customers, Vikas came up with a launched Popcorn & Company, a gourmet popcorn brand that is becoming a consumer-favourite. It competes with the likes of 4700 BC, The Crunch Box, and more.
Diversifying from B2B to B2C
The popcorn market In India reached Rs 2,040 crore in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 15 percent during 2018-2022.
Data reveals that popcorn is the most consumed snack worldwide; Americans alone consume about 17 billion kilos of popcorn each year.
“We were already into the business of supplying popcorn machines, kernels, and seasonings. The consumption rate of popcorns across the world drove us to launching our brand with a diversity of flavours while serving our patrons with scrumptious quick bites,” says Vikas.
Popcorn & Company manufactures handcrafted gourmet popcorn to sell on its website and on ecommerce sites, white labelling for brands, institutional sales, and franchising of gourmet popcorn stores across India and SAARC region.
The company uses machines from the US and Europe, along with imported raw materials that Vikas says are hard to find in India due to climate and other factors. Its manufacturing facility is located in Naraina, New Delhi.
He adds that Popcorn & Company was started to fulfil his long-standing dream of introducing flavoured popcorns in India. Its first concept kiosk launched at Kidzania in Noida in 2018.
Last year, the brand launched its first fully operational store in Pacific Mall, New Delhi. Six months later, Popcorn & Company’s first franchise store opened in Aizawl, Mizoram.
“I actually have quite a few franchise ventures lined up, which are soon to be introduced across India and the globe. Some of them are in the sign-up stage, halted due to COVID-19 outbreak but they will soon see the light of day in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Turkey, Ghana, and Johannesburg,” adds Vikas.
The group rakes a turnover of Rs 20 crore while Popcorn & Company recorded Rs 2 crore turnover in FY 2019-20.
Business challenges and COVID-19 impact
According to Vikas, compliance and policy challenges that subsequently put pressure and hike product costs can often reduce the margin for profit.
He says that he hasn’t experienced much competition but the presence of other brands keeps the game going. The brand’s large portfolio of 52 flavours, including red velvet, blueberry, chocolate, caramel crisp, litchi, cheesy sriracha, makes it stand apart from the crowd.
COVID-19 crippled the cash flow for many businesses, including Popcorn & Company. As restaurants and cinemas remain shut, it incurred a huge loss.
However, the pandemic also gave rise to an opportunity in the form of an unexpected surge in demand online and there has been no looking back since.
“Fortunately, we had listed ourselves on Amazon and Flipkart just a month before the lockdown. When ecommerce sales opened [after the first lockdown], we saw very high demand from consumers that we didn’t even think of,” adds Vikas.
The way ahead
Popcorn & Company hopes to be able to tap into the huge market potential and possibilities India offers. Vikas adds that the company is looking forward to becoming a nationwide brand while continuing to grow its associations and partners.
Through this venture, the entrepreneur aims to transform a regular snack into a uniquely high-quality experience. The goal is to build one of the largest family of ‘POPpritetors’ in the near future and one of the biggest retail franchise operations in India.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta