If you’ve tired of the sickly, oversweet processed popcorn in supermarkets, and long for a bag of the fresh stuff, you’ll be interested to learn that two brothers from New Zealand have taken your concerns to heart. Mathew Firth and his brother Sam make hundreds of bags of toasted gourmet popcorn, but it means an awfully early start for Mathew. Up at 5am every Saturday, the young entrepreneur heads to a kitchen on an industrial estate in south London, where he loads up the stainless-steel American machine with vegetable oil, corn and sugar.
Word of mouth means that the brothers’ toasted gourmet popcorn has become the snack to eat in the London area. The business began in the Partridges food market at the Duke of York square in Chelsea, London on Saturdays and from there it grew and the pair now sell to cafes, pubs and butchers across London. There is also have an online store if you cant wait until the weekend, or if you are in the London area on a Saturday, you could always pop along to the Partridges food market where the brothers hold a stall every Saturday.
The Firth brothers hail from Auckland, New Zealand originally, and Mathew has fond memories of his father making popcorn in pans on the cooker when he and his older brother, Sam, were children. But it was not until he was in his late 20s, and working in the advertising department of a newspaper in Auckland, that he rediscovered his childhood snack. Mathew says: “A friend from work was helping his friend sell popcorn at a food market every Saturday. I saw them getting busier and busier, growing from one market to four and then being stocked in supermarkets. I knew I wanted to move to the UK before I was 30 (when my chance to get a two-year work visa would run out) and I thought I could try that there. I’d spent hours and hours on the internet researching the best machines [he eventually chose a large silver industrial one made by the Chicago company Cretors], and I’d spent a year developing my recipe in pans at home. I knew I had to hit the ground running.”
The Toasted Gourmet Popcorn Company was launched in June 2011, and so far there is still only one flavour – salty sweet – which is created by caramelising the sugar on top of the corn, to give it a sticky coating, and then hand seasoning it with sea salt.
The popcorn is gluten-free, but not for health reasons, simply because Mathew prefers that type of corn as it has a better flavour, and none of the popcorn contains additives or preservatives.
The two brothers get up early each Saturday to make the popcorn before two helpers arrive at 7am to bag it up. After it is made, around 200 bags go straight to Partridges food market in Chelsea, where a friend helps run the stall – “If you get there by 9.30am the popcorn is still hot; we are the fresh bread of the popcorn world” – and the rest are boxed up for retailers. “Finding retailers initially was not as hard as we thought it would be,” he said. “We had the exposure from being in the market, which made a big difference.”
So far the company is selling more than 1,000 bags a week, all of which are made on Saturday mornings, to delis, cafes and pubs in south-west London, through his website and, since December, to Fortnum & Mason, where it has been extremely popular.
Assistant Grocery Buyer at Fortnums – Georgina Haszlakiewicz, said the team had been looking for a brand of popcorn for some time. “As soon as we tried Toasted Gourmet we knew we’d found the one,” she said. “We love that they have kept it simple and developed one flavour that appeals to all palates.”
The company has proved to be so successful that last month, Mathew gave up his day job to concentrate on the business full time, and he predicts that by the end of this year his turnover will be £500,000. He plans to expand the number of retailers and increase the range of flavours, “but I’m a perfectionist; the last one took me a year, and I want to make sure I get it just right.”