Adam Sopher doesn’t remember his father, Joseph, doing much cooking when he was growing up.
“My mum, Jackie, did all the family meals. Dad was only interested in making popcorn” says Adam, 32.
“He made it for us for years when we were kids after discovering it in the States in the 1990s when he was there on business. At the time, we only had boring salted or sweet flavours here. Dad spent years testing recipes in our kitchen.”
In 2008, when in his early 50s, Joseph took early retirement — the electrical wholesaling business his father had founded had gone into administration. Bored at home, he turned his popcorn experiments into a business.
He tested the market at a food show at Olympia in 2010, with samples of six flavours, including caramel, mirin and goat’s cheese with black pepper, under the brand name Joe and Seph’s inspired by Joseph’s name. They sold out quickly and had interest from Selfridges which became the first shop to stock their product.
Adam, an economics graduate, was still working full time at Dixons Retail as a financial consultant at the time, but he and Jackie — who had been a stay-at-home mum — soon joined the business. They started selling from a stall at Brent Cross shopping centre. “Many of our customers still remember us from then,” says Adam.
At that point, his parents were making the popcorn in a rented kitchen in Park Royal, paying for it by the hour to save money. After work, Joseph developed new flavours in the kitchen at their home in Radlett.
“He loved finding new combinations and would spend time playing with the ingredients in our kitchen cupboards. If he liked a pairing, he turned it into a flavour.”
Adam won’t reveal their exact recipe. “I can tell you that we use fantastic ingredients and layer on the flavours, so they come through gradually in your mouth, but how we get those flavours onto the popcorn is our secret process.” They only use large corn kernels and only include whole popped kernels.
Younger brother, Paul (27), has now joined the family business, which has grown quickly and turns over £5 million a year. Only sister, Louise (25), a paramedic, has resisted — “She prefers saving lives to popping corn”.
The popcorn is now produced in the company’s kitchens in Harlesden, not far from Adam’s home in Queens Park, with 14 chefs popping more than 40 flavours. The brand is available in 2,500 locations — including cinemas and on airlines including British Airways and easyJet — and in more than 19 countries, including Australia, France and Hong Kong.
"We created a salted liquorice popcorn just for the Scandinavian market — they love much more salt than the UK. We also find that our stronger flavours like espresso, and toffee apple with cinnamon sell better in Germany. The UK’s favourite flavour is salted caramel.” They have yet to make it to Israel — “We hoping to find a partner to launch us there in the coming year.”
A big business from a tiny kernel of an idea.