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Propercorn Brand Strategy Brand Partnerships

Proper doubles down on brand partnerships after Barbie leads to record popcorn sales


By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

September 6, 2023 | 7 min read

After its movie tie-up resulted in its highest sales ever, we hear from the popcorn and lentil chip maker about its plans for using brand partnerships to scale.

Barbie Propercorn bus wrap campaign

Barbie Propercorn bus wrap campaign / Yonder Media

Amid the Barbie-mania of summer 2023, Proper Snacks’ popcorn brand, Propercorn, wrapped double-deckers in London in bright pink as it promoted its Barbie-themed, limited-edition sweet popcorn. The partnership not only drove record sales, says creative director Becky Akers, but has majorly upped distribution.

The collaboration is part of Proper’s wider brand marketing strategy to scale the business and tap into culturally relevant moments, she says. “What the partnerships can do is help us tap into a broader audience, into that wave of relevancy, and, most importantly, show our brand at that mass scale which gives us a really strong hook with retailers.”

The company sold five times as many packets of sweet popcorn off the back of Barbie than it had forecasted. “So it’s not only an important brand awareness and relevancy tool, it’s genuinely really helping our sales as well. It started as a marketing lever and then it actually flows through to sales as well.”

Earlier this week, Proper debuted its second brand partnership – a limited-edition chicken popcorn range with KFC. For its release, Proper has erected a giant grab machine for influencers and the public (and this intrepid reporter) to get rigged into, all for the chance of winning vouchers for KFC or Propercorn. “It was just a wicked way of launching a playful flavor and felt aligned to the brand, injecting some more hype and buzz back into the popcorn and category,” says Akers.

Hannah Bowler KFC grabber

As the marketing team forges their new brand partnership strategy, Akers says she has two criteria: “The brands need to have bigger awareness than us and need to have cultural relevance or weight.”

Ad agency origins

Proper’s brand origin story starts with its founder, Cassandra Stavrou, working in an ad agency and noticing there weren’t any decent healthy snacks available to get the office over the dreaded 3pm slump. As Akers explains: “The healthy snacking landscape at that time wasn’t a positive space; it was lacking in vibes, everything was white and pale blue and the language was all about skinny diet.”

That original ambition to solve the office snack problem has informed Proper’s brand strategy. “I’ve always looked outside of our category to the behaviors of fashion and lifestyle brands and kind of echoed that in our approach versus the snack competitor,” says Akers. “We wanted to turn up in a way that was really kind of positive, playful, bold and colorful.”

The first stockist of Propercorn was Google HQ and then, within the first year, it landed the official snack of London Fashion Week. “For us, that was the accolade we needed to say we made it,” says Akers.

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‘Scaling with integrity’

The challenge for Proper Snacks now is all around scaling the business while still holding on to its disruptor mentality. The buzzword at Proper has been scaling with “integrity,” which means going into the biggest retailers and doing big above-the-line mass awareness campaigns while still seeming alternative enough to win accounts at the “coolest cafes and the coolest events.”

Akers says the ambition isn’t to become the biggest UK snack company but to become the most relevant. Internally, the team talks about being “un-FMCG” in its marketing. She gives the example of, instead of doing FMCG-style sampling outside London tube stations, the marketing team invented the ‘Proper Dropper’ giant grab machine, which was brought back a second time for the KFC launch.

“We don’t have the biggest budgets; we never will have the biggest budgets. So we have to turn up in a way that is disruptive and memorable.“

Another pillar of Proper Snack’s brand strategy is to make the popcorn category more exciting. The cost of living crisis had been leading to own brand labels becoming consumer favorites and, according to Akers, the category generally becoming “stagnant.” Now though, the popcorn category has returned to growth and Proper has driven 70% of the category’s growth.

The business recently became a £51m brand and also had success launching its chips business in 2021, which has racked up £21m in sales. Along with pushing forward its brand collaboration strategy and scaling plans, Akers hints that it has uncovered other gaps in the market ripe for a Proper offshoot.

“As a brand, we don’t take ourselves too seriously: we make snacks and, at the end of the day, they are an inherently frivolous thing. So we see every touchpoint of the brand as an opportunity to turn up in a way that’s really playful, to add some kind of joy to people’s lives and to just make that moment as memorable and engaging and as fun as possible.”

Propercorn Brand Strategy Brand Partnerships

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