The dark sweet rises: Why movie concession stands should reconsider dark chocolate


Dark chocolate continues to grow in the confectionary world. Some would say this is thanks to the continued praise of its health benefits and others would say it is because the palate for dark chocolate has grown. Both of these trends have helped make dark chocolate a fierce competitor of milk chocolate which grows in percentage of sales each year.

Dark chocolate, however, is not that widespread in the U.S. cinema industry. A review is in order on the growing popularity of dark chocolate, why it’s not more prominent at the concession counter, and why we should perhaps reconsider.

A look back ten years ago would reveal very few dark chocolate products in the wide consumer market, either in theatres, stadiums or retail stores. That has changed very fast with the barrage of news on the health benefits of dark chocolate and the development of premium chocolate products as the U.S. market has turned more and more to natural and organic foods. Almost as a sideshow, the growth of premium chocolate mixed with fruits or nuts or sea salt has quietly grown every year over the last decade as the palate in the U.S. has finally caught up with other world markets.

The health benefits are now understood and accepted. The clinical studies have been seemingly endless: Chocolate, especially dark chocolate at the level of 70% cacao or more, has been proven to be antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, good for your heart, good for your mood, and an agent to actually help suppress appetite. It’s comparable to red wine in its health benefits yet without the issues related to alcohol. Everyone of all ages and sensibilities can enjoy its benefits—in moderation, of course, because it does still contain fat. But it has been confirmed, repeatedly, to be a good treat for you, end of story.

But with any food product, taste matters. While dark chocolate has long been popular in foreign markets, milk chocolate has reigned supreme in the U.S. as the preferred product, thanks in no small part to the success of the wide commercialization of the Hershey milk chocolate bar, Mars milk chocolate M&M’s, the Nestle Crunch bar, and many other examples. But the quality of dark chocolate that has accompanied the health interest in the product has created a true affection for dark chocolate products and forced it onto the American palate. The accompanying acceptance that having some dark chocolate with a little orange or pomegranate is actually good for you has created an “indulgent” thought process to develop around dark chocolate and this is very visible in the product branding and marketing messages.

So with this growth, how prevalent is dark chocolate in the theatre market? Not as much as you would think. Dark chocolate is simply associated with premium chocolate in the U.S. market, as the greater promotion in America has traditionally been used for milk chocolate products. Many dark chocolate products, mixed with premium ingredients which truly elevate their flavor profile, are indeed premium products and they simply cost more. So while the health benefits of dark chocolate would seemingly raise its percentage of sales in the cinema, it hasn’t been able to offset the higher cost and lower profit margin that these products produce. The candy selection is also highly targeted at the younger audience, and dark chocolate is more appealing to an adult palate. This has kept dark chocolate out of the candy selection, except in art houses and higher-end VIP cinemas.

But as the love affair with dark chocolate grows, maybe we should rethink this. Some of the most commercially successful milk chocolate products in the U.S. have been re-made and re-marketed with dark chocolate, such as Reese’s Cups, Kit Kat bars and M&M’s. Additionally, dark chocolate and premium chocolates are purchased by the same “foodies” who purchase coffee, wine and organic products, all coming to the forefront as we expand our menus. Perhaps dark chocolate is the way to get those consumers up to the concession stand as well; the introduction of these products is just starting to find its right timing. The last two to three years have seen an explosion of alternative menus, and adding a more interesting mix of chocolate to the offering is a definite move to try. Perhaps it won’t be one of the main candy items at the counter, but it can be offered in alternate spots with higher-end items, such as at the bar with wine.

The health conversation surrounding natural and organic products is only going to continue. The theatre industry, like any industry involved in foodservice, will continue to be under pressure to offer healthier products to the consumer. Dark chocolate “kills two birds with one stone”; it is indeed a healthy product but it is also a sweet indulgence which fits the presentation that the cinema wants to project. Dark chocolate products are gaining in acceptance by the U.S. palate and are being combined with ingredients that render a wide array of possibilities in chocolate offerings.

The offset in margins must be made up with sales growth. Perhaps the growing desire of the consumer to see more and more diversity at the cinema, along with the increasing awareness of the need for healthier items, will deliver the sales volume that dark chocolate needs to climb in prevalence. At a minimum, with all the changes that have occurred in the last few years, it deserves a second look.

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