Who doesn’t love a good bag of popcorn? And while it’s fun to pop your own and delight in the sounds and smells of each kernel exploding into existence, often times you’re either on-the-run, don’t have time or you are just itching for a great flavor combo that only the pros can kick out. Well, have you ever tried Plonkers Popcorn? A bag of Plonkers is a true gift with so much flavor and quality packed into each, re-sealable bag that you might just convert to this ready-made version entirely. And thanks to an intro to one of the co-founders of this great, NW-based brand, I was able to get the skinny on how Plonkers came to be and exactly why their oh-so-tasty products have created such demand not only by customers but by multiple, high-end grocery chains and specialty vendors. It’s all about quality…through and through.
In love with popcorn since childhood, Darrell Hammond got lucky when his wife Debi began making gourmet popcorn for the holidays many years back. Getting firmly involved himself, Darrell would come home from work and experiment with new flavors in the kitchen. A pacific northwest local, Darrell became known by friends and family as the “Popcorn Man.”
A husband and wife team effort from the start, Plonkers Popcorn, the commercial version, came to be out of recognized market demand. It all started one night in 2015 when Darrell Hammond and his wife Debi were watching “The Profit,” a Shark Tank-like show that features businesses in need of rescue. On this particular eve the episode was about a woman that had five popcorn push carts deployed at Disney Anaheim. Grossing 1.8 million a year, this business was still not seeing a profit. And while The Profit’s host passed on helping in this particular case, Darrell had an epiphany and said to his wife, “I’ve gotta make popcorn every day, the rest of my life.”
Already headed to Disney a short time later, Darrell and Debi, now in full collusion with one another on the possibility of a popcorn-based business, took the opportunity to check out these popcorn carts first-hand, as well as what was selling in the park shops. “We went to Disney and saw it (popcorn) in every shop.” The demand was clear and this just fueled their collective and growing passion.
Darrell and Debi then spent the next 6 months learning everything they could about making popcorn. Having never purchased a bag of pre-cooked popcorn in their lives, the idea of making and bagging popcorn for commercial sale was a bold one. And yet, as the owner of a successful construction contracting business (an industry notorious for throwing curve balls), Darrell knew they could just “figure it out,” especially with Debi at his side. And while they eventually did figure out how to make some very good popcorn, they still needed a name. After all, without a good name and solid branding, even great products are often doomed to fail. So the name research began.
While looking up possible business names in an urban dictionary, Debi saw the word “plonker” and spoke it out. Both loved the word and just knew it needed to be their brand monicker, despite its initial definition being that of a “man constantly drunk on cheap wine.” Additional definitions were more suiting as a plonker can also be a person that is “silly and wally.” Thinking of Kramer on Seinfeld, Darrell just loved it. Indeed, it is a fun name and, well, popcorn is supposed to be both fun and whimsical. Perfect fit! Plonkers Popcorn the brand was now born.
Plonkers First Retail Home: Chuck’s Produce
If you’re from the Portland/Vancouver area you know about Chuck’s Produce. High-end, tastefully-designed, it’s just a wonderful place to shop not only for great produce, but for all types of grocery items. At Chuck’s you know you’re going to get quality…every single time. So when Darrell and Debi were ready to find their first home for the now dubbed “Plonkers Popcorn,” they felt Chuck’s would be a great first stop.
In an effort to secure their first sale, Darrell went to Chuck’s, Plonkers Popcorn in-hand, and was able to get a meeting with the store manager. Unbeknownst to Darrell, Chuck’s was in desperate need of a popcorn supplier as the one they had at the time was going out of business. Perfect timing! Yet during this initial interview, some industry questions were asked that threw Darrell for a loop. When asked if he had “UPC codes,” Darrell thought the manager said “UPS Trucks.” Nevertheless, after a clear hit to his credibility, Darrell leveled with the manager saying, “You want popcorn? I can do it.” Seeing and tasting a clearly great product, and noting Darrell Hammond’s confidence and conviction, the Chuck’s manager said “yes” and gave Darrell and Debi two weeks to deliver.
With their first order in the queue the Hammond’s got busy. Not even in possession of a commercial bag for their product, they bought a die cut machine from Michael’s Arts and Crafts and, after some effort, produced “the ugliest bag you’ve ever seen,” according to Darrell. Nevertheless, two weeks later the Hammond’s delivered and Chuck’s put Plonkers Popcorn on the shelf. And guess what? It started selling…fast. Darrell noted that this initial rush of sales was largely due to the fact that their popcorn was cooked in coconut oil, and featured a large sticker noting so on the packaging. This was just at the beginning of the “coconut oil craze,” which was/still is a health-driven element that consumers are fast after. Coupled with un-matched taste, it’s gluten free and non-GMO recipes, Plonkers was a winner in the making.
A New, Well-designed, Flexible Bag for Plonkers
While talking with Darrell Hammond one thing stood clear: this is a couple that has not been in a rush to expand. Rather, with a successful contracting business providing all necessary income, The Hammond’s have been able to take their time perfecting their product and its branding. Of course, this has extended to product packaging. And having faced offers to expand nationally from the near outset, it has taken both patience and wisdom to take this slower, built-to-last approach. As Darrell noted, “many businesses jump at the first chance to expand distribution. We haven’t had to do this and thus have several big chains now awaiting our call.” Well, with a new, flexible and resealable package designed and built for Plonkers Popcorn by Portco Packaging, the only SQF 3 rated food packaging manufacturer on the west coast, Plonkers is now firmly set to grow. “We finally have the packaging we need,” says Darrell, clearly excited about this new chapter. “Portco took a chance on a small fry like me and it’s very exciting,” noted Darrell. Indeed, the new packaging is remarkable. Both fun and classic, to me this new packaging looks ready for the global stage. And as Darrell stated, “Sales of our popcorn has already doubled in the one week that the new packaging has been put out.” I’d say that’s an endorsement.
Darrell and Debi feel like they’ve already succeeded with Plonkers. And while their distribution is small by many standards, this, as noted, has been by design. Plonkers has become very popular where it is found and certainly the future looks to pop even brighter! At this time, Plonkers Popcorn products can be found at the following fine locations here in the Northwest: