How Gourmet Popcorn Tins Became the Gift of Christmas

And how you can support small popcorn businesses this year.

gourmet popcorn tins
Image by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist
Image by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

If you’ve ever subjected yourself to last-minute gift shopping then you’re familiar with walking down store aisles past a huge display of snowflake-decorated tins. And if you pop the lid off of one of them, inside is a literal gallon of popcorn flavored with butter, cheese, caramel, chocolate, and sometimes even ranch. But where did the idea to put popcorn inside of decorative tins come from, and why do they make an appearance in stores every year? 

I reached out to Garrett Popcorn Shops, one of Chicago’s most popular popcorn companies known for its gallon-sized popcorn tins, CaramelCrisp, and Garrett Mix. Adrienne Kardosh, vice president of marketing for Garrett Brands, said the company has always sold their kernels in bags in their shops, and in the ‘90s, they started a mail order business to ship the popcorn more efficiently. 

“We shipped in tins to protect the kernels as they shipped around the country. We would receive handwritten mail orders, and then we would scoop it into tins in our shops, because all of our shops have kitchens, cook it, pop it in the shop, and then put it in the tin and send it out,” Kardosh said.  

Since then, many kernel-popping companies have taken the tin approach to selling their popcorn and during Christmastime, they’re often decorated with festive designs including reindeers, Christmas trees, and of course, Santa Clause.

History suggests the emergence of movie theaters and the Great Depression as a launching point for the modern-day popularity of popcorn in general. Popcorn bags that cost 10 cents a bag were considered an “affordable luxury,” according to Andrew Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America. The buttery snack offered a slither of joy in an otherwise dark period of time.

However, the exact reason why decorated tins of popcorn are so popular during the season of giving is unclear, but judging from how many convenience stores, Walmarts, and Big Lots carry them every year, they’re not disappearing anytime soon. 

But before heading to your nearest store to stock up, consider giving your loved ones a tin from a small, locally-owned business this year. Here is a list of some around the country that offer nationwide shipping of classic and unique flavors.

Where to buy tins of popcorn


Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co.
What to get: Poppin Pail of NBN Original Sweet & Salty and Cheddar Makes It Better


Purple Gurls 
What to get: 2-gallon tin of peanut brittle, habanero cheddar, and cocoa pop 


Buttery Popcorn Co. 
What to get: 2-gallon tin of cheddar, cookies & cream, and chile lemón


Caja Popcorn
What to get: Mix & Match 1-gallon tin of sea salt caramel, buffalo ranch and kettle corn


Popcorn World
What to get: 2-gallon tin of dark chocolate pretzel, caramel toffee almond, and Southwest jalapeno


Popcorn Queens
What to get: 1.75-gallon tin of bourbon pecan


Poppin Top Hat
What to get: 2-gallon tin of the Detroit Mix


Lammar Marie's Gourmet Popcorn
What to get: 1-gallon tin of the dark chocolate sea salted caramel


Go Popcorn
What to get: 1-gallon tin of brown butter caramel

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Kristen Adaway is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her @kristenadaway