Kernel of inspiration: Brian Taylor brings new seasonings to 'naked popcorn'

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You know a good story when you hear it, right? Well, if you don’t know Brian Taylor and the story of Kernel Season’s, you are in for a treat. It’s a great success story, both for him personally and for the theatre industry. He introduced a smart way to market and sell popcorn seasoning and has found many customers and friends along the way.

Brian Taylor started his career by making his own personal spice blends for popcorn in his college dorm room. He then contacted a group of flavor experts with over 50 years of experience and turned his passion into a business. In the summer of 2000 he officially launched Kernel Season’s (www.kernelseasons.com) after graduating from the University of Michigan and started selling popcorn seasonings to “rid the world of naked popcorn.”
Located in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, Kernel Season’s has become a successful, well-recognized brand in both the theatre and retail industries. The company sells its shake-on toppings in about two-thirds of the U.S. movie theatre market, in multiple international markets, and at more that 25,000 retail stores across America.

To be clear, seasoning for popcorn is not new—flavored salt has been around for a while. But what Taylor did was to come up with quality flavored seasonings and then package and market them in a way that made them appealing. For the theatre industry, he produced small individual bottles of seasoning in a variety of flavors that are Kosher-approved, made with real cheese and premium spices and have no MSG.

It is a difficult, difficult thing to start a company from an idea, fund it, and grow it to success. Brian Taylor has done that and been featured in numerous media outlets including CNBC’s “The Big Idea” and Entrepreneur Inc. magazine. He started the company with $7,000 of his own savings and began with outsourced manufacturing. Today he owns his own manufacturing facility in the Chicago area.

Taylor has learned a lot about business in the past ten years and has made great friends in the theatre industry. He sells his product to the retail industry as well, but notes, “It was my theatre customers that were willing to get to know me and help me learn along the way, and become friends as well as clients.” He attributes the success of his product to “high quality and effective merchandising.”

Kernel Season’s is launching a new line of seasonings for other food items including pasta, pizza and vegetables, as well as a sweet line for fruit, yogurts, ice cream and pancakes. He is currently placing his focus on retail opportunities and the international marketplace.

The challenges internationally include shipping, distribution and labeling, as well as food regulations. But the potential is great, including all the international markets that have traditionally rejected plain, salted popcorn. The European market favors sweet corn and has been much more open to a variety of flavors for decades.

Kernel Season’s product makes it possible for the theatre to pop the same type of corn and give the option to the consumer to choose the flavor topping. It’s a great consolidation of economy for bulk corn while selling the consumer the additional flavor.

Their three top-selling flavors in the cinema industry are Nacho Cheddar, White Cheddar and Kettle Corn. You will often see these three together as a set at the theatre or at trade shows.

Krystal LaReese has worked with Taylor for five years selling this product to the theatre market and she knew it would work, after her years of managing concessions for GKC Theatres. LaReese and Taylor have helped their theatre clients sell more popcorn and add incremental revenue to their popcorn sales with individual seasonings, and that is a big feat. Regal Cinemas, America’s largest theatre circuit, has been offering Kernel Season’s in their theatres for several years.

Brian Taylor is still quite young. He was 22 when he started the company and he and his wife now have a ten-month-old daughter. He is currently studying at the University of Chicago to obtain his MBA degree to make sure he is “making all the right decisions.”
To top it all off, ask anyone in the industry and they will tell you that Brian Taylor is a very pleasant person to know and work with. His story is about a person, a company and a product that have enriched our industry in a brief ten years. I told you it would be a treat!