I have a problem. It’s not a big problem — in fact, it’s probably a good problem to have. I’m going to admit it here, in print, to all of you out there reading this story. OK, here goes: I’m addicted to Little Lad’s Popcorn.
Phew! Load off my back. I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who feel the same. You buy a bag of the crunchy, deceptively simple mix of popcorn, sea salt, herbs and the key ingredient, nutritional yeast, and less than 20 minutes later, the whole bag is gone. And yet, you don’t really feel that bad about it, since the whole bag has under 350 calories, it’s vegan, it’s not greasy at all, and the yeast is a complete protein that’s loaded with B vitamins.
The folks behind Little Lad’s — Larry and Maria Fleming, who live in Corinth, near the processing plant where they make the popcorn and other Little Lad’s products — started making the popcorn as a side dish for the sandwiches they served at their vegan cafes in Portland and New York City. Soon, the popcorn began to overwhelm the demand for sandwiches and soups.
“People started coming in and saying, ‘Can I get a bag of that popcorn to take home with me?’” said Larry Fleming. “And we were actually popping popcorn in a pan on the top of the stove, and I’d say ‘Yeah, sure.’ And pretty soon we’re just constantly popping popcorn.”
Little Lad’s now cranks out thousands of bags of popcorn per week, shipping them throughout the Northeast and several Midwestern states. They’ve also expanded to offer five other flavors besides traditional, including the sweet Snackerjack, Bar-B-Q, Lemon, But-tah and the new Garlic But-tah. All vegan, all irresistable. It’s become so popular that the company purchased a new plant in Guilford last year, and are completing the move there in the coming months so they can keep up with demand. They employ a number of people in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
Little Lad’s makes other products, including “Nice” Cream, a vegan ice cream, small fruit pies, cookies, crackers, granola and almond butter. They still have their cafes in Portland and in New York, and they now sell popcorn in Hannaford stores statewide, as well as natural food stores and cafes, such as Giacomo’s in Bangor, the Belfast Co-op, the Blue Hill Co-op and Whole Foods in Portland.
As the Flemings say, part of the reason their popcorn has exploded in popularity over the past few years is that they believe people want an alternative to all the junk food that’s out there. I know that’s certainly part of the appeal for me — that, and it tastes really, really good.
“I think people are just looking for something different than the constant diet of chips they’ve had forever,” said Larry Fleming. “As we put on our bags, ‘When the chips are down, try Little Lad’s.’”