It’s Been a Great Run: Looking back at the 'FJI'-NAC Connection

Columns
Snack Corner

The National Association of Concessionaires was fortunate enough to form a partnership with Film Journal International some 20 years ago. The periodical, renowned for its coverage of the exhibition industry, decided to include the concessions channel of the business. Since that time, there have only been two concession editors tasked with keeping FJI readers abreast of trends and products and services offered to cinema operators. New product offerings, new forms of foodservice, success stories and data analysis have been covered in over 240 articles devoted to the secondary revenue stream so important to the economic health of theatres. In addition, dozens of food and beverage professionals have been spotlighted on these pages.

As much as the universe of concessions has seen changes, the world of printed content has experienced its own form of disruption. Film Journal International is now merging with Boxoffice to form a single monthly publication for the cinema and exhibition channel.

Mile Marker #1

In 1997, Film Journal International invited the NAC to write a column highlighting trends in the concession area. The first concessions editor was Anita Largent Watts. “I think mile marker #1 would be Jimmy Sunshine deciding Film Journal needed a monthly concession column,” Watts recalls. “He thought it was an area of the business that was under-covered by the periodicals and he thought that the readership would appreciate a focus on an area that is so clearly important to the bottom line. (I was lucky enough to be the person he asked to write it.) He was right. From the very first article I wrote, many people sent me comments or called and said they loved it or hated it. But they all agreed they wanted more.”

The column was titled “sNACk Corner.” Anita Watts served as concessions editor for 17 consecutive years, offering meaningful expertise. She invited her constituents to consider alternative understandings to everyday concession processes. She covered insightful ways to increase concession sales, how to upsell the patron, how to be mindful of healthy options or considering the impact of portion sizes. Her years of insights gave all of us “food for thought.” She was committed to bringing us the latest information on products such as pretzels, nachos, popcorn, confections or any item that could lift the concessions experience. “More came in the form of the changes at the concession stand, which ushered in an expanded menu, new larger sizes, branded offerings and so much more. It became an easy monthly article to write because there was simply so much to write about,” Watts recalls.

Mile Marker #2

FJI also wanted to include the people who represent the professional side of the concession trade. Watts remembers, “Robert Sunshine asked me to expand and write features on individuals in the concession arena. That was also a great idea, and really helped the growing class of professionals in this sector to get to know each other. I think primarily the players all agreed that exposing different subjects and persons to print helped all of us be a little better. I enjoyed it because it allowed me to keep my ear to the ground and get all the good gossip! In all seriousness, I hope ‘Snack Corner’ contributed to the success of Film Journal as a whole. I know it helped the concession industry gauge our own success and shout our respect for what our fellow professionals were accomplishing.”

As foreign markets blossomed, FJI increasingly expanded its international coverage. This emphasis allowed the concessions editor a broader perspective than that of the U.S. snack model in cinemas. Ms. Watts’ columns recognized professionals from all corners of the Earth. AndFJI gaveits international readership a chance to study and adapt U.S. best practices.

Mile Marker #15

Changes in demographics and services morphed and the simplistic title “Snack Corner” seemed outdated. The expansion of menus, services and standards necessitated a deeper understanding of foodservice; hence, the editors decided to change the column’s name to “Concessions Trends.”

Mile Marker #17

FJI introduced its second concessions editor in December 2015. For the past 36 months, I have had the honor of serving the Film Expo Group as its concessions editor with great respect for the diversity and professionalism its readers expect. Articles from “Mind your P’s and Q’s” to “Suck it Up” hopefully enlightened the contingency of cinema operators on trends and the deviations our channel of business is experiencing preparing everyone for the newest culinary delights.

Mile Marker #20

So as we end this run, it is with great pride that I take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has participated in our coverage. We have been blessed with dozens of people who allowed us to interview them. We have been fortunate to have so many people share their intellectual capital so that everyone can improve the cinematic experience for our guests. I have been asked on multiple occasions why I would share secrets to operating a concession business. Here is the truth: Any time we can improve the patron’s moviegoing experience, we make going to the theatre fun. When going to the movies is fun, we sell more tickets. When we sell more tickets, the grosses increase. And when the grosses increase, studios thrive, which leads to more great product in our facilities.

In closing, both Anita and I thank you for your loyal support—we sincerely appreciate all of your endorsements! It was a great run. I thought I would be faster.

Larry Etter is senior VP at Malco Theatres and director of education at the National Association of Concessionaires.