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The Doctor is In

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Popcorn has emerged from the darkness of the anchor multiplex and into the light of malls and other venues, thanks to Doc Popcorn, a marketer of all-natural fresh kettle corn sure to give just about anyone the munchies.

The Boulder, Colo.-based franchise is the brainchild of Rob Israel, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” whose background is in the children’s apparel and licensing business. He ran Knitwaves, a high-end children’s apparel company in New York City, for 12 years.

“Quality was very important to us and everything was made locally, not in the Far East,” says Israel, who sold the business in 1996 when department stores were closing up and the company’s business plan would have had to change dramatically.

Israel was looking for something simpler than the apparel business; he began angel investing in the digital world, but had a revelation on a visit to his family in Colorado.

“I had kettle corn for the first time and fell in love with it,” he says. “The core product made a lot of sense and I spent nearly two years in my New York kitchen experimenting and developing flavors.

“We had everyone in the family popping popcorn,” Israel says. “I just knew it would do well.”

The concept kicked off in 2003 at the FlatIron Crossing Mall in Broomfield, Colo., where the company moved into a vacant kiosk location. Within a year, sales in that location doubled. The company spent the next six years refining the concept before franchising. Today there are six full-time locations in Colorado, including four mall locations and the Pepsi Center in Denver.

A simple business model
Unlike apparel, the entire Doc Popcorn business model was designed to be simple and efficient. This included the development of nine flavors of popcorn, which can all be made on one piece of equipment, and bottled drinks. “People are looking for better things to eat and their options are limited,” he says. “I think we have the best snack available in high-traffic venues today.”

The company has three concepts: mobile PopCarts, PopKiosks and PopStore. Complete investment for a franchisee can run from $70,000 for a mobile unit to about $150,000 for the store.

“We’ve gotten a lot of traction with the mobile kiosk,” Israel says. “We can drop it in anywhere and there’s no issue with health departments because it’s on wheels and uses modular, portable plumbing. Just plug it in and you’re in business.”

While location, lease rates and other factors determine which business model works best, kiosks account for about 80 percent of Doc Popcorn’s business. The company also controls product supply and distribution.

“Quality is paramount,” Israel says. “We’re the only non-GMO popcorn in America and we use the only non-GMO corn producer. Additionally, we only use 100 percent corn oil.”

Retail prices start at around $3.50 for a small bag; larger bags and gift-appropriate quantities are also available. “The product is very approachable in terms of price,” Israel says. “It’s not the Lamborghini of food — just the best, most affordable popcorn in the world.”