Saturday, February 11, 2012

Store Review: Garrett Popcorn

Location: IFC Mall
Type of goods: popcorn
Rating: * (1 of 5)

Garrett Popcorn opened its first store on Madison Street in Chicago in 1949. The company takes great pride in their fresh popcorn presumably made from the highest quality ingredients. They call it a "Chicago tradition."

A Garrett Popcorn in Chicago

But who cares? Popcorn is popcorn, right? Not so according to media deity Oprah Winfrey who declared Garrett one of her "favorite things" (what happened to cream-colored ponies and crispy apple strudels?). Since then, the overpriced, mediocre and really quite unhealthy snack began to pop up across the U.S. The hype has now spread to Hong Kong.

Garrett opened at the IFC Mall in October 2011 to zero fanfare. Hong Kongers just couldn't get excited about puffy, starchy popcorn. I can't remember the last time I said to myself, "Hmm, I wish I had a bucket of caramel-flavored popcorn right now..." Egg tarts perhaps, but not popcorn. I don't know if Garrett did any market research before they decided to plant a flag here, for if they did, they would have found out that Cantonese people are slow to American sweets. Donuts and cinnamon rolls? Sorry, we don't touch that stuff. That's why Krispy Kreme crashed and burned in Hong Kong a couple of years ago. And that's why every time I pass by Garrett's counter in that lonely corner next to City Super at the IFC, I see not a single paying customer.

The often empty counter at the IFC

To lure fickle and penny-smart Hong Kongers, the store now has a guy standing in front of the counter passing out free samples. And so like everyone else, I take a little plastic cup from the tray, pop a few kernels in my mouth and ask, "So how much does it cost?" The staff wearing the signature blue apron answers, "$49 for the small pack and $598 for the 2-gallon can." Yes, that's $600 for a bucket of stupid popcorns. I politely put down the plastic cup and walk away, for I know an egg tart from Tai Cheung (泰昌) only costs $6. Honestly, how do they pay rent?


  1. This is the first time I see someone actually disliking Garrett Popcorn. Contrary to your experience with them, I loved their goods, and every time I visited the stall was packed with customers. As with most snacks, this is not meant to be healthy but an indulgence at one's choice.

    Perhaps a Chicago Mix tub might change your mind?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Razlan. Out of the people congregating at the store, how many of them are just looking around and how people end up buying? And how many of them would come back and buy again? Perhaps I am a bit harsh on them, but only time will tell. Let's see how much staying power they have.



  3. As an Asian American, I can understand why cheese caramel popcorn is not an instant top seller in HK. But I also see why it's so popular here in the US.
    We fall for anything with a heavy duty flavor.

    Asians have an appreciation for mild and subtle flavors, and would probably consider cheese caramel popcorn as too sweet and greasy. It's sweet, salty, sticky, and will turn your fingers and tongue orange.

    People wait in long lines for Garrett's, they buy bags of it before leaving for the Chicago airport.
    I myself fell for Garrett's in Chicago, and was happy to find one store front here in NYC. I wouldn't consider it a regular snack, maybe once a year. People know it's an indulgence. It's a very popular treat or gift for families and as corporate gifts, huge tins of it - for the holidays.

    In Shenzhen and HK, the caramel popcorn in movie theaters are lightly coated, just right yes?
    You never now, maybe with enough time, exposure - Garrett's will make a little dent, then a bigger dent as they open shop in Singapore and Malaysia..HK being the lead.

    here's the pricing in Garrett's NY: is it the same?

    thanks for your food blogs..I can really relate to many of them.


  4. Hi Lily,

    The same goes for Krispy Kreme and Cinnabons: an occasional "off-the-wagon" indulgence. But in Hong Kong, and especially at the IFC Mall, retailers really need a huge turnover to pay sky-high rent. I think Garretts is doomed right from the start.

    Thanks for your support. Do check back often and tell your friends! :-)