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Live Love Pop: Making a Difference with Ready-to-Eat Snacks

Image credit: Live Love Pop

A Gold Medal Customer Success Story

Lauren Mariel didn’t set out to begin a ready-to-eat popcorn business. In fact, she was working a corporate job in sales and marketing. But when her mother received an unthinkable diagnosis, Lauren felt she had to take action in whatever way she could.

Putting a Positive Spin on a Difficult Time

Throughout her childhood, one of Lauren’s favorite activities was making stovetop popcorn with her mom. Naturally memories of these special times spent together resurfaced when her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. Lauren quit her job to be with her mom, who she considers her best friend, and to help her through treatment. But she felt she could do more.

Channeling her emotions into something positive, Lauren decided to start a popcorn company to honor those cherished memories with her mom. Right away she knew she wanted a portion of sales from Live Love Pop to go to various charities and causes that are making a difference in the world. But other than that vision, she didn’t know where to start.

Partnership with Gold Medal

In the beginning, Lauren says she contacted about 30 contract packagers, but none of them were willing to take her on because she had no volume. So instead she decided to build her own tiny manufacturing kitchen. She knew she needed a commercial popper, and after an online search, she found Gold Medal.

After ascertaining her needs, her Gold Medal representative recommended first a single 60 oz. Cornado popcorn machine, and later a second one. Because Lauren’s only experiences with making popcorn were on the stovetop, operating an industrial popper was an entirely new ballgame.

Lauren says her Gold Medal rep was her “wingman,” helping her through every step of the process, from choosing the right kind of popcorn kernels to determining the right kettle temperature, to teaching her how to manually add oil to the kettle, and even offering advice on working with co-packers.

According to Lauren, Gold Medal played a huge role in getting Live Love Pop up and running, and with that assistance, her first two commercial popcorn machines powered Live Love Pop for couple of years as the company got off the ground.

Success and Selfless Snacking

At first, Lauren and her cousin were handling everything in their “tiny but mighty” test kitchen. Eventually, after what Lauren describes as “a lot of hustle, cold calling, and showing up on doorsteps,” Live Love Pop broke out into the larger market. They landed accounts with TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, and Marshall’s, and found a co-packer that was willing to customize some small lines for them.

Live Love Pop is currently made up of four full-time employees, along with an outsourced national sales and brokerage team. Lauren says she’s kept her team small enough to accomplish what they need, but they’ve still expanded with these outside resources that play a big role. She loves that she still gets to work with people individually, despite the company’s growth.

Lauren credits her success to the company’s branding and story, as well as breaking into the market at just the right time before it became too saturated. But it’s also clear that Live Love Pop is producing a high-quality product that consumers love to eat and support.

Through the “Selfless Snacking” campaign, a portion of the sale of each flavor of Live Love Pop goes to a different cause, from hunger relief efforts to Alzheimer’s research, and of course breast cancer research in honor of Lauren’s mother, among others.  

Image credit: Live Love Pop

“Flavors Are Everything”

When asked about Live Love Pop’s process for creating new flavors, Lauren emphasizes that her popcorn is the substitute for potato chips. She wants to provide flavors people already know and love in a new and healthier form.

When developing new ideas, she is still using her original Gold Medal kettles for flavor testing in small batches. In fact, Live Love Pop itself is still considered small batch – the co-packers Lauren works with have been flexible in providing small lines to mimic what she had in her tiny kitchen.

Lauren stresses that the smaller the batch is, the better the taste will be. And she intends to keep things that way. “The minute you increase batch size, you mess with the quality of the product,” she says, and that’s something she refuses to do to her brand. It’s important to her because it’s how her mom taught her to pop popcorn. “Flavors are everything for us,” Lauren explains.

Living Poptimistically

While it’s not necessarily the path she had planned to take, Lauren has embraced Live Love Pop and its mission wholeheartedly. “We’re a bright, happy brand,” she says. And their tagline, “Live Poptimistically,” embodies their mission. The company is not just “pushing volume,” Lauren explains. “It’s been rewarding to work with the charities.”

And as far as Lauren’s original inspiration? She says her mom, who we’re happy to report is doing well, was overwhelmed and touched by the idea and how it’s taken off.

What’s Next?

On the horizon for Live Love Pop is the release of the company’s first-ever sweet flavor, Cinnamon Bun, due out this spring. In the longer term, of course Lauren hopes to grow the company more, but she also wants to be even more involved in the causes Live Love Pop supports and to continue making a difference.

You can read more about Lauren in a recent Entrepreneur article, and be sure to visit Live Love Pop’s website to learn more.