Mouthwatering possibilities and greater convenience are among the benefits that Chicagoans are enjoying thanks to a few bold new innovations from Garrett Popcorn.
Besides expanding its line of flavors, the 70-year-old Windy City snack maker recently began selling its popcorn in select retailer locations. Garrett now offers S’mores, Simply Strawberry, Simply Cocoa, and Simply Matcha in places like Potash and Binny’s.
According to Senior Vice President of Marketing Adrienne Kardosh, the concepts are designed to “match the magic that happens in Garrett shops.”
“We really needed it to be something phenomenal,” she said. “In order to get that kind of quality in a grocery store, we thought, ‘what are the recipes that will allow us to do that?’”
Three of the new flavors are based on Garrett traditional Caramel Crisp recipe. The Strawberry is made with real fruit and “always sells out.” The Matcha is a green tea powder that balances well with brown sugar. And the Cocoa is so good that Kardos and her daughters finished an entire bag on a recent walk home from the Michigan Ave. shop.
The fourth introduction, S’mores, is an “early crowd favorite” developed in Garrett’s kitchen at 2555 N. Elston Ave.
“It’s not based on any of our existing recipes,” said Kardos. “One of our chefs put graham crackers and chocolate and marshmallow together and made a hit.”
But flavor is just one part of the magic that makes Garrett a beloved Chicago institution. Founded as a mail order business by a female entrepreneur after World War II, the company opened its first Chicago retail location on State St. in 1949. It cooks with copper kettles to “add a certain flavor and crunch” to the fresh air-popped kernels sold in its shops, where free samples abound.
“When we were little, our parents would take us downtown and we’d come to the popcorn store,” said Bianca Campanile, a UChicago Medicine nurse. In keeping with the tradition, she and her grandmother made a special trip to Garrett’s Streeterville shop at 625 N. Michigan Ave. to pick up some popcorn for the holidays on a cold day in December. “My favorite is the Cheddar,” said Campanile. “But my grandma likes the Hot Cocoa Mix.”
For online orders, the company operates the Elston Ave. facility around the clock. “After someone places an order on the website, we cook it, package it, and put it on the UPS truck on the following morning,” said Kardosh. “That’s about as fresh as you’re going to get it.”
Loyal customers include Halle Berry and Oprah Winfrey, who has added Garrett popcorn to her list of “Favorite Things” on multiple occasions. "It's the best popcorn on the planet,” Oprah declared in 2011. “And you don't have to fly to Chicago to get it.”
Kardosh knew that Garrett’s was a “brand that consumers truly love” when she started working for the company in 2018, but the extent of their fondness still surprised her.
“I was talking to one customer doing consumer research in one of our shops and another customer would say, ‘excuse me, you haven’t asked me yet,’” she explained. “I have never had that happen. Usually everybody shies away from the market researchers.”
Garrett shops have introduced several new features to keep customers safe during the pandemic. The busy Streeterville location at 625 N. Michigan Ave. recently installed a pickup window, and the 87th St. location built a two-lane drive-through that Kardosh reckons may be a first in the consumer popcorn industry. Combined with new mobile ordering options, they allow customers to select, pay and grab their treats without any close contact.
Noting that, “everybody has a story with Garrett,” Kardosh said the innovations fit right in to the city’s legendary knack for overcoming hardship.
“It kind of makes sense that it’s in our blood, in Chicago’s blood, to make the best of a situation and make something special for the community,” she said. “I’m really proud to be a part of it.”