Picture this: it’s date night, and you just finished dinner; you’ve planned to see the latest film at the theater. Although you’ve eaten a full meal, something about the allure of concession foods seems to be drawing you and your partner in. And the sense that has been most intrigued is your sense of smell by the ever-common popping of popcorn.
For many, movie popcorn is top-tier. It is often associated with memories, a sense of connection, and a butter flavor that is pretty difficult to recreate outside the theaters. But with a shift in how moviegoers attend the theater since the pandemic, many people have put more effort into recreating the movie culture at home.
And as one would imagine, having the proper snacks is a significant part of that at-home movie atmosphere. What makes at-home movie viewing most like an in-theater experience? It’s the snacks–particularly popcorn. But without the comfort of movie theater popcorn, where can people turn to when the standard grocery option is not giving what it needs to give?
At this intersection is where the good folks at Soul Popped entered the conversation. Soul Popped is a gourmet popcorn brand founded by De J. Lozada with a mission “to live in a more equitable and just world, always doing our part to make it that way.”
Lozada entered the consumer goods industry after dealing with an undiagnosed illness for nearly nine years. Faced with financial hardships due to the sickness and with three children and her elderly father to care for, Lozada invested half of the last $53 she had to her name and found some joy in a food experiment consisting of popcorn seeds and coconut oil. From there, her creativity took off, and she soon realized she had created something worth exploring more.
“With only $26, I invented popcorn flavors that tasted just like different soul foods like Banana Pudding, Fried Chicken, Chicken’ N Waffles, and Macaroni and Cheese. I started selling my popcorn on the side of the road from the back of my SUV,” Lozada said.
Just a few weeks after her initial sales, Lozada found herself selling her popcorn in one of the largest farmer’s markets in Central Texas. The farmer’s market would only be a starting ground as Lozada has opened her second store in Austin, Texas, and is crowdfunding on her site so she can move into a larger production space.
Soul Popped may be gourmet popcorn, but at its core, it is more than a delightful treat. The company’s mission notes that it is a snack with a purpose. With this in mind, Lozada wants as many people as possible to experience her delicious creation.
“I’d like to mainstream Soul Popped by strategically moving into a mix of high-end grocery retail and expanded wholesale accounts like luxury resorts, hotels, museums, businesses, and event venues nationwide,” Lozada explained.
As a matter of fact, Lozada is proud to announce that she recently has landed two new partnerships to bring her closer to her goals: one with the Smithsonian’s African American History Museum in Washington, D.C., where Soul Popped will soon be a regular feature in the gift shop; and the other with financial banking behemoth Bank of America who is interested in stocking Soul Popped in as many of its employee cafeterias nationwide.
With all the recent success, however, going mainstream, still means that Soul Popped has a very intentional approach to its business development. Since beginning in 2016, one of Lozada’s passions as a business owner has been to advance equity and inclusion in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space.
A part of this intentional equity focus is not accepting every single offer that comes her way. Lozada has declined investment opportunities that did not align with her position as an ethnocentric brand. In fact, Lozada is so ten-toes down with her mission and vision that she turned down a significant opportunity from one of the world’s most influential financial investors. For Lozada, she is okay with “bucking the system” to ensure the soul of Soul Popped remains intact.
“Yes, I’ve turned down some major investors because either the timing wasn’t right or their offers just weren’t a good fit for what I’m seeking to accomplish,” Lozada noted.
Lozada has built a unique food experience that appeals to the masses but is unapologetically centered around the culture of Black people and their food journey. Infusing natural soul food ingredients makes the Soul Popped experience one that people won’t soon forget.
Her nuanced approach to the packaged good, coupled with her unwavering business approach, gives her hope for the type of brand business she’s building. And while she has not yet done any major fundraising for the product, Lozada desires to raise funds for business advancement and would love to see those opportunities come from Black investors.
“I’m passionate that the African American community needs more investment from our own community because that’s one of the few ways we have to build more wealth amongst ourselves. While I’m happy to entertain the right investors from any background, it would be ideal for me to attract someone I don’t have to explain my life and particular pain points to while trying to navigate the institutional land minds I have to as an African American woman founder,” Lozada explained.
To double down on her commitment to the Black community, Lozada worked during the pandemic to start two businesses to impact the trajectory of Black people in CPG. The first is a non-profit called the National Association of Black Food and Beverage Manufacturers with the goal to collectivize black CPG brands so that they could eventually speak with one voice when engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders. The other is an all-digital popcorn fundraising platform called Good Trouble Gourmet, the first 100% black- and woman-owned business in this arena.
“I realized that after the pandemic, many organizations – especially black ones – would most likely have an even harder time raising money for their important causes. Good Trouble Gourmet provides a safe and effective way to raise money from the comfort of your own home and it keeps black dollars circulating in our community longer.”
When asked why she would feel the need to take on such major projects, Lozada said, “There’s definitely strength in numbers. Somebody had to be willing to start the process to build new systems to bring us together so that more Black-owned brands can begin to rise to the top on our own terms.”
For the future, she hopes to have Soul Popped acquired so it can reach as many homes as possible.
With an array of options, even vegan ones, there is something for everyone at Soul Popped and at Good Trouble Gourmet, whose flavors are only available through fundraisers. And as Lozada moves forward on this journey, she is excited about the legacy she will leave in food and business.
“When I close my eyes for the last time, whenever that happens, I’ll be able to say, ‘Man, what a ride!'”