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December 23, 2016 Staff

How To Start a Kettle Corn Concession Trailer

kettle corn

Fresh and delicious kettle corn. Photo Credit: JV Foodie

Kettle corn is not just a snack, but nostalgia in a bag. It’s a food item that brings us back to simpler times and enjoyed regularly by people of all ages. From an operations perspective there’s also a lot to like about this time tested concession business too!

For one, kettle corn businesses can focus on one doing one core product really well. There are a lot of vendors that try to do too many things on their truck or trailer. One challenge is that there’s only so much space to cook complex menu items on a trailer. There are many first-time vendors that get in over their heads and overwhelmed by trying to do too much on their vehicle.

Another challenge is that the more menu items you have, the less time there is to really think about the ingredients and how you plan to execute. If you only have one core item to create, whether it’s burgers, pizza, or in this case kettle corn, you’re going to get better and more consistent at making your product overtime.

Kettle corn also has very good profit margins. It’s not uncommon to be able to sell a large bag of kettle corn from $5 – $7. The cost of this including the popcorn and bag is often between $1.00 – $1.50 to the operator meaning you could end up with making a profit of around of a whopping $5.00 per bag. That’s an extremely attractive margin of profit compared to other food businesses that would be happy to make a mere 33% from each sale.

Finally, there’s not a lot of ingredients that you need to run this business. To make kettle corn you’ll need kernels, vegetable or canola oil, sugar, and salt. Kettle corn is more about the process than the actual ingredients. If you want to jazz up the corn with chocolate, caramel or nuts that is also an option. If all this wasn’t attractive enough, your product spoilage will be minimal. If your kernels are being stored in a dry environment at room temperature it can be stored for over a year without compromising quality.  This longevity is not possible with other food businesses.

Concession Trailer VS Tent


Pop up kettle corn stand. Photo Credit:

If you are planning to start a kettle corn business, you do not need to invest in a trailer. You can operate the business just fine with a pop-up tent and many businesses choose to operate in this way permanently. If you want to operate with a pop-up tent, you can often start your business with a really nice setup for around $10,000. Not bad for a business that you could easily recoup the investment in just a few months!

There are some clear benefits to operating with a concession trailer that we will outline here, however. First, setup and cleanup is easier with a trailer. With a pop-up tent, you will need to transport the kettle corn machine, tables, in a trailer or a truck anyway. If you’re planning to vend often, setting up a tent and all the other equipment can easily take an hour for prep and cleanup. Those are hours where you are not generating sales or making money.

With a concession trailer, you can essentially open up the serving windows and doors to be open for business. Taking a bit more time for setup may not seem like a big deal now, but after operating for a few months these are the things that can really start to tire you out so make sure to consider this in advance. Also, if weather turns bad and rain clouds appear overhead, you can quickly close the doors to your trailer and take off. Closing up shop with a popup stand is no quick task.

Due to the limited amount of equipment that needs to be installed on a kettle corn concession trailer, getting started is usually a lot less expensive than other mobile food businesses as well. Almost every other type of business has refrigeration needs. This is not the case with kettle corn, unless you want to sell old fashioned sodas as an add-on product. For this business you will need a kettle corn maker, 3 compartment sink (due to health requirements), storage area, mixing paddle, and a stainless steel receiving kettle.

More About This Business

If you are planning to have a trailer built for a kettle corn business or just using a pop-up tent, one thing you’ll want to keep in mind is the “entertainment factor” of this business. People don’t just want to eat your kettle corn–as delicious as it may be–they want to see you stirring the corn, cooking it in the traditional fashion, and smelling the sugary kettle corn. With that in mind, make sure that your customers are able to see you making the popcorn. More people will shell out a few bucks to enjoy your kettle corn if you do this.

With that in mind, consider your full brand. People usually think about the “good old days” with kettle corn. It may not be a bad idea to play this up with your brand reflects this too. Make sure your uniforms are clean. Wear an apron. Consider getting branded hats that every employee wears. This will separate you from other vendors in your area whether you’re planning to operate at a farmer’s market, charity event, or festival.

If you’re interested in getting a custom-made kettle corn trailer built, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks or call 904-397-0246. We’ve helped hundreds of mobile food entrepreneurs get their start and provide support after the sale.

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