Caramel popcorn isn’t just something to enjoy on vacation -- it can lead to a lucrative business. The ingredients don’t require much in the way of startup costs, and the markup can be as much as 500 percent. The trick is to be something other than a spur-of-the-moment purchase from someone who just walks past your location. Creative marketing and planning can help you make the most out of your snack business.

Run the Numbers

One reason caramel popcorn can be an attractive business is that many of the supplies are cheap. The ingredients to produce a one-ounce bag of buttered popcorn are about 20 cents -- including the bag. Equipment, rent and labor obviously adds to that figure, but the ingredients are less perishable and you can purchase commercial mixes to take care of the caramel and other toppings, adding just a few cents to the cost. Prime real estate will cost you, but if you want to start a popcorn cart instead and don’t mind buying one second-hand, you can spend as little as $2,500 to $5,000.

Know Your Demand

Demand for caramel popcorn may fluctuate based on your location. For example, if you’re selling at the beach, lines may be out the door in the summer months, but your store may be empty in the winter. That sales data helps you form a business strategy. One option is to hire temporary help to keep the traffic flowing during peak periods, and spending the months with less store traffic emphasizing your mail-order business or fundraising opportunities.

Maximize Sales Channels

People might want popcorn when they’re passing by your establishment, but you can also make it easy for them to eat it when they’re far away. Offering popcorn-to-go in containers that maintain freshness can get customers to bring some home with them. Giving them a discount on refills when they return with those containers encourages repeat business. Starting a mail-order operation allows your fans to get their fix even when they’re far away.


If you’re selling caramel popcorn in a retail establishment, foot traffic is critical. The best-case scenario is somewhere that brings plenty of customers in the mood to buy, like a boardwalk or a shopping mall food court. In addition, how you design your establishment can influence its success. If your popcorn machine is located on the front counter instead of the back of the room, for example, it can make a difference of 30 to 50 percent in sales. Make sure the popcorn is always popping -- even if the resulting product is wasted, the popping sound and action attracts customers.

Be Creative

Just serving caramel popcorn may be enough to get some spur-of-the-moment traffic, but you’ll need some clever ideas to stand out in the crowded snack and dessert market. Get creative in how you name your popcorn and what flavors you use. Use local and regional preferences to set yourself apart. For example, a Maryland caramel popcorn stand might season a batch with Old Bay to take advantage of the state’s association with crabs, while a New Orleans operation might use Creole seasonings instead. Adding pink or red coloring can turn caramel popcorn into a Valentine’s Day present.