What’s Trending? New flavors and influences impact movie concessions

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Snack Corner

It has always been trendy to have a Top Ten List, especially one inspired by David Letterman and his writers’ brilliance. However, I believe that seven is better, as it gives the reader the option to add other concepts from his or her own unique culture to complete the list. I assume the purpose of the reader of these pages is to gain knowledge about the foodservice and snack segment of the cinema channel. So what are the trends, the successes and the factors that can be activated on the foodservice side of the business? This month’s column attempts to recognize the top trends that might be incorporated into concession operations in 2017.

1. Authenticity: The cinema foodservice line of offerings has been changing. Most observers believe that the “bigger” the menu, the higher the per-capita efficiencies. The underlying notion is that menu items are becoming more authentic. “Clean” food products will become the norm and find their way into concession servings. Example: Do not be surprised to see real butter to top your popcorn making a comeback in 2017. This makes an old staple a new possibility, with natural aspects and genuine ingredients a value proposition. Butter is a real flavor enhancer.

2. Comfort Foods: The caravan of food trucks has found its way into the foodservice markets. Food trucks explicitly portray the trend of hand-to-mouth foods. Tacos, burritos, crawfish and shrimp have been available, but with the cross-pollination of our channels in foodservice, it will be easy to see new comfort foods coming to light in the next 12 months. Think in terms of warm, soft and simple.

3. Organic: As the vocabulary begins to change, the movie theatre owner will filter through the terms and understand that patrons want something more organic in the foods that are offered. “Organic” can be translated in many ways, but what is trending is non-GMO, no preservatives, and freedom from chemicals used in customary production processes. This trend has actually been creeping into our cinema concession operations for years. Bottled water is the perfect example. Popping corn in olive oil is a recent augmentation for some. The truth is that many new cinema operations going forward will be integrating “organic” concepts in the overall menu. Local ingredients and locally grown foods will become a priority, much like IPA beer.

4. Flavor Variations: Kernel Season’s introduced the real value in flavor capabilities ten years ago with season salts for popcorn. The introduction of that concept in theatres led to a retail phenomenon. A similar trend is now before us in the cinema industry. It will not be in just salts, but in a variety of lines and a new culture in popcorn consumption. Hershey’s is releasing its Reese’s Peanut Butter Crunch, which infuses the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with Reese’s Pieces. Sour Candies have been marching into the candy cases for years, exposing the fact that the next generation of concession buyers are looking for unique options such as Sweet Bottom Cookies that merge a Nestle Crunch within a bite-size chocolate-chip cookie. 

5. International Influences: As much as cinemas are now incorporating restaurant concepts and adult beverages, the search for unique presentations continues with an international influence. It is conventional knowledge that the entire foodservice channel has exchanged practices and the channels of business are no longer so clearly defined. Cinemas are also recognizing the diversity in their audiences; it is no longer just teens and adults, ethnicity has become a part of the global presentation. International concession menus have always offered U.S.-based foods such as hot dogs, candy and nachos (the latter a Mexican favorite that’s become an American staple). The next trend is that U.S. operators will be offering international favorites.

6. Spicy: This trend seems to merge with the “flavors” trend. Individuals looking to bring a new presence to their concession offerings are sincerely trying to “spice up” the fare. Sriracha is now being offered in multiple food groups as the spice of choice. This trend was introduced through quick-serve (fast-food) restaurants in the past year with great success. Look for harissa, a complex chili paste, to begin to march its way into the concession stand, because the food consumer is looking for “heat” in the palate. Jalapeños, buffalo sauce and habanero are all terms we will be using more frequently in the future.

7. Proprietary Presentations: As cinemas owners continue to initiate these bigger menus, competitors will be looking to identify their specific brands. This will lead to proprietary brands, as witnessed by Cobb Theatres’ Cine Bistros, AMC’s introduction of Fork & Screen, and other large circuits following that trend. Marcus Theatres has made considerable investments in developing their brand, and smaller circuits will find value in distinguishing themselves in this presentation entertainment sector.