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Be Your Own Boss: Start a Kettle Corn Business

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Selling kettle corn can be a profitable business venture.

Selling kettle corn can be a profitable business venture.

Are you looking to be your own boss? A kettle corn business might be the perfect business opportunity for you. The start-up costs are relatively low, and once you’ve made enough money to cover the cost of the popper, you can start seeing some real profits. Your supply costs—popcorn, oil, sugar, salt, bags, and either electricity or gas to power your popper—are not very expensive.

A friend’s family owns a kettle corn business, and it’s not uncommon for them to clear $1,000–$2,000 in a weekend; that’s after the cost of supplies. It’s also extremely easy to make the corn, so this isn’t a job you’ll need extensive training for—making it perfect for a career change as a full-time job or a side job to supplement your income.

Why Kettle Corn Is a Good Business

Part of the reason kettle corn has the potential to be such a lucrative business is its mass appeal. Most people like popcorn, and kettle corn is a delicious twist on the standard treat—a perfect mix of salty and sweet. It's also relatively cheap. Decent-sized bags typically cost $3–$5, allowing you to make a sizable profit while easily competing for customers' attention with the over-priced foods typical of an event. You get a lot more for your money for a $3 bag of popcorn than you do for a $3 hot dog.

Additionally, kettle corn is portable. You can take it with you as you wander the fairgrounds, or you can eat it sitting in the stands of a sporting event. If you don’t finish it, you can take it home with you, and it’ll keep for several days.

What to Consider Before Getting Started

If this sounds like a business opportunity you’d be interested in, there are several things you need to consider first.

  1. Will You Pop On-Site or Off-Site?
  2. Where Will You Sell?
  3. What Permits Do You Need?
  4. Do You Need Staff?
  5. What Do You Need to Buy, and Where Will You Store Supplies?
The popper itself is the largest expense for starting a kettle corn business.

The popper itself is the largest expense for starting a kettle corn business.

1. Will You Pop On-Site or Off-Site?

This is an important first consideration. If you pop on location, you can draw many people to your location by the novelty of the popping, especially if you have a large kettle; people just like to watch it pop. Also, the smell will attract people from a hundred yards away. You’re also able to make kettle corn throughout the day, providing customers with a fresh product. The downside to this, though, is you typically need a larger kettle. This can cost more money. You’ll also need a trailer for the kettle and a vehicle capable of hauling the trailer. You’ll also need to make sure you have the proper hook ups for your kettle, either electricity you can access or your own gas tanks for it.

If you pop off location, like at your home, you don’t need as big of a machine, so your initial investment is smaller, but you will have to make more batches. This can take more time, as not only are you taking the time to sell, you’re taking separate time to make and bag your product. You’re limited to the product you bring with you, but your business is much more portable, as you aren’t lugging around a huge kettle with you.

You’re not limited to just one of these models, though. You might want to start off small popping off location, and as your profits increase, invest in the equipment to pop on location. Similarly, even if you are set up to pop on location, you could always pop at home and take the kettle corn with you to an event.

2. Where Will You Sell?

To truly make this a profitable business, you’ll need to have a variety of venues to sell at. Large venues like tournaments, fairs, car shows, and trade shows typically have the highest profit possibilities, but you also have larger fees to pay in order to sell there. Other venues include sports games, the park, free concerts, farmers’ markets, or even in front of a store.

Our friend’s dad often sells in front of a local grocery store and sells to people as they go in and out of the store. Clearly that’s not going to give you the $1000+ day that large events will, but, considering the low cost of supplies and having the kettle paid off, he can clear $200 in a day, and the average person is certainly not making $200 a day, so that’s a great profit!

Be sure that there are enough locations and events that you will be able to sell at. If you jump into the business without first compiling a list and contacting those in charge of the venues, you might find you don’t have enough places or you have to travel too far to be profitable.

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3. What Permits Do You Need?

Before you start a business, especially a food-based business, you’ll need to acquire permits, including tax permits. You will also be able to get paperwork making you exempt from paying sales tax on your supplies. Be aware that if you’re making this at home, you will likely have to have your home inspected. For help registering your business, you can contact your local chamber of commerce to find out what permits are required in your city and/or state.

Be aware that if you travel, you might need other permits. Some cities that charge sales tax beyond the state tax will require you to get a permit from them and pay sales tax to them based on your sales. The same goes for selling in another state. The process isn’t extremely difficult, but it could be easily overlooked, resulting in unnecessary fines.

4. Do You Need Staff?

For smaller jobs, you can sell on your own, but if you’re at a bigger venue, you will definitely need help to pop, bag, and sell the popcorn. Depending on the size of the event, you'll probably want one or two people for each job. Family and friends are the easiest, and they’ll usually work for free or cheap. If that’s not an option, be sure you can find dependable, affordable employees to help you.

5. What Do You Need to Buy, and Where Will You Store Supplies?

Kettle: You will need to buy your kettle, of course. Large kettles designed for on-site popping will require you to go to a special supplier. Smaller kettles you could use in your home to make kettle corn before the event are much easier to come by.

Supplies: You’ll also want to locate a store that will allow you to buy supplies in bulk. You could try, Sam’s Club, Costco, or another warehouse store. Once you find supplies, you will want to purchase extra supplies so you’re not constantly going to the store or waiting for a shipment. You will need to find a clean, dry place to store your supplies.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Sharon on December 06, 2017:

I'm in ft.myers fl. And need to know what license I need for kettle corn ? I know about tax I'd #.but I have been told get business license - get ocupational permitted or license,ect just what kind do I need

BarbaraCasey on September 01, 2014:

Thanks for the tips. In Florida, this would be a year-round business.

Josh and Lindsey (author) from Indiana on February 03, 2011:

I never thought it was profitable, either, until I started hanging out with a friend whose family does it. They have several kettles and sell all over the area. I'd help work bigger events, and it was amazing how much money they could clear on something so cheap and easy!

Bryan Eaddy from Michigan on February 03, 2011:

Great Hub. I never thought that someone could actually make money by starting a Kettle Corn business. One of my best friends is a Kettle Corn junkie, he'll love this article.

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