Local flavor, global appeal: Cinepolis executives discuss audiences and appetites


Simply put, “Cinépolis VIP is the most comfortable movie theatre experience,” says Bernardo Rugama, the circuit’s commercial director. Ever since Cinépolis VIP Interlomas opened in Mexico City in December 1999, the company has expanded the concept to two locations in Brazil, four in Central America and five in the United States. At home in Mexico, there are 36 locations, with Cinépolis Andares and Cinépolis Samara going all-out VIP with their eight and nine auditoriums, respectively. The other 133 VIP screens are located within Cinépolis multiplexes, he explains. “Cinépolis VIP offers special items such as sushi, makis, kushiages and a wider range of food, including shrimp and beef jerky, fried appetizers and sandwiches, brownies, cakes, and pies. We offer beer, wine, liquors and cocktails. Our ‘Premium Popcorn’ comes in four flavors and is presented differently in different countries.”

Each year, Cinépolis sells over 28 million bags of popcorn alone and has more than 1,900 different product SKUs on rotation at any given time, Rugama notes. “At our ‘Dulcerías’ concession stands, we have all the regular ‘movie offers,’ including hot dogs, nachos, candy, chocolates, ice cream and Icee drinks. But we also keep it fresh and exciting with special items each month. These ‘in-and-out’ products vary from flavored sausages to spicy nacho tortillas. At our coffee shops, where we sell sweet and hearty French-style crêpes, guests will also find products like ‘Tequesitos’ from Venezuela and the traditional Mexican ‘Churros.’ In the northwestern part of Mexico, we have ‘Tosti-locos,’ a nacho tortilla served with spicy sauce, tamarind, cucumber, onions, nuts, lemon juice, clam and tomato juices.”

The corporate fact sheet further notes, “Coca Cola and its variety of refreshing beverages are also an essential component” of the Cinépolis experience worldwide. Under its registered “Cinecafé” and “Coffee Tree” brands, cinema lobbies also offer the previously mentioned crepas, along with cakes, smoothies, frappés and coffee (American, espresso, cappuccino, mocha and latte), hot chocolate, hot and iced tea. At “Baguis” guests can enjoy a wide range of baguette sandwiches, croissants and French fries. Among the popular combos at Cinépolis are Combo Cuates (“friends”), Combo Nachos, Combo Baguis, Combo M&M’s, Combo Extreme, MaxiCombo and Combo Clásico.

“Snacking habits are very diverse,” Rugama continues. “Our core products are basically the same; we do have different offerings not only country to country, but they also vary by region.” In Mexico, “the proportion of concession revenues to box office is twice as large as in any other market where we have a presence.” The country breakdown for popcorn flavors are 63% for butter, he further details, 15% for caramel corn and slightly less for the 50/50 combination of butter and caramel. Light (lower-fat) popcorn and chili-spiced have about a 4% share each. In India, “we offer basically the same products as we do in Mexico,” and that includes the Coffee Tree line-up, notes country manager Javier Sotomayor de Zavaleta. “However, we have ‘Indianianized’ the ingredients that we use, if you will. You can find vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings, including Chicken Tikka, Amristari Fish, Paneer and some other vegetarian options. At the concession stand, we have butter and caramel popcorn, but also our special massala flavor.”

“We try to adapt the ‘Mexican offer’ to each market we have presence in,” Rugama concurs. “The most different offers you can find in India and Brazil. All the Cinépolis complexes everywhere in the world offer all our Mexican-variety popcorn. But not all flavors are a hit everywhere. Our ‘spicy’ popcorn did not make it in Brazil, so now you will find lemon-pepper-flavored popcorn instead.” Similarly, the hot beverage strategy needed to be adjusted as well, notes chief operating officer Miguel Mier. “Brazil is a country that consumes a lot of coffee, but probably we have not been as accurate with our coffee offering there as we should be.” Crêpes “are not working all that well either” in Brazil. Across Mexico, Cinépolis is their largest individual seller, however, even though these crepas “are only sold within our theatre lobbies,” he reminds us. “Originally, crêpes were not all that popular, but we started testing them and began growing the business. They are easy to prepare and easy to eat, and make a great sweet treat or more hearty meal.”

A great and easy way to earn equally hearty cash rewards and special offers is Club Cinépolis, where every peso spent at any cinema point-of-sale translates into points. For an annual registration fee of 59 pesos (US$4.75), members automatically receive the point equivalent of 5% of their total purchase. Each point then represents one peso that can be used just like cash for payment. In addition, Rugama explains, “this loyalty program includes newsletters and special invitations, discounts and exclusive promotions inside and outside our cinemas with promotional partners.” Any one of the 1,437,330 active members in Mexico (that’s an astonishing 83.29% of the total base of members of 1,725,607 at press time) also get special admission pricing on Tuesdays and a two-for-one ticket voucher during the month of their birthdays. For the most loyal members who attend at least 12 times in a six-month period, the Fanático Club Cinépolis offers 10% of the transaction total to be converted to cash points.

Cinépolis has an equally fanatic presence on Facebook, with more than 3.3 million fans and more than 810,000 Twitter followers in Mexico alone. “We are very active in our social network channels and have been very successful, without disregarding traditional media,” Rugama attests. “Cinépolis maintains a strategic presence on radio, free and cable TV as well. In February, we aired a spot during the Oscar telecast.” In general, “we have an annual plan for promoting both box office and concessions. Every promotion looks at ‘payout-payback’ and we set specific marketing objectives that we want to achieve. These may vary from increasing frequency to a higher occupation rate, or from hit rate to spend per head.”

Asked about the high level of individualized attention that Cinépolis affords its guests in India, Sotomayor de Zavaleta explains, “Regarding our social-media strategy, Facebook in particular, we decided to start with unit-level pages due to our size and footprint. Our strategy has proven to work well, since we have the highest ratio of fans/screen in the industry.” Each location interacts with its fans by addressing them lovingly as Cinegems, Cinebees and Cinerockerz (Cinépolis Surat Amritsar and Bengaluru), or Cinepats and Cinepals (Patna, Ahmedabad). In Bhopal, however, Cineholics have registered the highest rate of 34,000 likes so far. “Our core philosophy in India has been ‘customer intimacy,’” he says. “We manage communication centrally and still are able to localize our messages.” With more than 140,000 likes already, “our strategy should change eventually,” Sotomayor de Zavaleta foresees. “It’s not sustainable in the long term, as we will be broadening our footprint in India.” (You can find more about that expansion in our “New Cinemas” overview on page 76.)

When it comes to programming, Cinépolis follows a strategy for localization as well, given a footprint in 128 cities in 11 countries. “Only very big films open at the same time across Latin American markets. The rest opens at different times,” explains Miguel Rivera, director of programming. “In India, local films are 75% of the box office. Of the countries in Latin America where we have operations, Brazil is the market where local films are more important. Every year there is at least one local production that enters the country’s top ten of highest-grossing films. In Colombia, there are some good local films as well. And while 2012 in Mexico was not a good year, in general local titles represent around six to seven percent of total attendance there. We expect the share of Mexican films to grow substantially this year. Tastes in Latin America are not that different from country to country,” he has observed. “In general, family films are what works best and after that comedy, action and horror films.”

How about specialized fare and alternative programming? “We launched ‘Sala de Arte’ in June of 2012 in Mexico.” Rivera says; exporting the concept to other countries is under analysis. “Cinépolis selected 21 theatres in 11 cities for this first stage where one auditorium in each theatre is dedicated exclusively to art-house product. We were early adopters of alternative content mainly with World Wrestling Entertainment and the FIFA’s 2010 World Cup when we showed some matches in 3D. In 2012, we offered approximately 40 events from opera and ballet to WWE, NBA and UEFA’s Champions League. We had the Wimbledon men’s final live in 3D,” he names another example. “Our approach to alternative content has been to test the waters with pretty much everything that we come across. To our surprise, most events have worked with our patrons.”

Operationally, “films for Mexico and Brazil are contracted locally in each country. In the case of Central America, Colombia and Peru, they are programmed and contracted from our offices in Costa Rica with direct supervision from Mexico.” Currently, Cinépolis has only some 300 screens of more than 3,000 that have not been converted to digital projection with Barco and Doremi equipment. “They are our last theatres in the long rollout plan,” that began in January of 2012 and will be completed this May, Rivera says. “We are open to test every new technology that becomes available, such as immersive sound and HFR. We try to adopt such technology if we think there is a value added to our customers’ experience that justifies the investment.”

Rugama names six IMAX locations in Mexico and one in Brazil along with Cinépolis 4DX and Macro XE experiences as cases in point. The latter is the circuit’s proprietary large-format brand and offers 4K 2D and 3D projection on screens that are over 180 square meters (1,940 sq. ft.) large, with 13,000 watts of sound in 47 auditoriums (at press time) that average around 300 premium seats. Exclusive to Latin America, Cinépolis has deployed 16 4DX multi-sensory cinemas so far. Developed by Seoul, South Korea-based CJ 4DPLEX, the 4DX systems feature motion-based seating and special effects, all synchronized to the onscreen action. Both the chairs and auditorium feature devices to simulate wind, water, scent and dozens of other effects, such as vibration, back and leg ticklers, bubbles, fog and light.

As project manager responsible for cinema design in all countries, Luisa Ramírez recognizes the importance of these technologies in the digital era as “a breaking point in design offering new possibilities leading to innovative and efficient solutions.” At Cinépolis, she says, “design is evolving rapidly mainly because of the technology advances, the competition, and above all, our clients having higher expectations… The design of a movie theatre plays a stellar role in client satisfaction. On one hand, it enforces the values and personality of the brand through the overall look and feel. All the while keeping in mind the latest design and fashion trends to keep our spaces modernized. On the other, the way we build is directly connected to guest satisfaction in that it provides efficiency related to operation and overall comfort. Cinépolis is always focusing on solutions to the needs and requirements of customers in every region of the world.”

Generally speaking, Miguel Mier calls building and operating cinemas in different countries a “learning process” to find out what moviegoers want. “We have to keep on trying different products and tweaking our formulas, looking at other product options that are appealing to each market. Our core business of the cinematic experience will remain uncompromised, but we need to tweak the offerings around it, in order for it to become a more well-rounded consumer experience.”

Bernardo Rugama
As commercial director of Cinépolis, Bernardo Rugama is in charge of box-office revenues, concessions and expanded food and beverage options, marketing and advertising. With a communications degree and MBA from ITESM, he served in a number of sales and marketing roles at the Kellogg Company before joining Cinépolis in 2008.

Favorite Theatre: Cinépolis Plaza Morelia, “where I go with my kids every weekend.”
Favorite Film: Reservoir Dogs
Favorite Movie Snack: “Nachos with extra cheese and a medium Sprite with no ice.”
On Cinépolis: “Having known the Ramírez Family since 1990, I have always admired them and their company. When they asked me to join their top management team, I considered this a great honor.”

Miguel Rivera
Miguel Rivera is the programming director for Cinépolis. With studies in economics and a Master’s Degree in public policy, he had worked for McKinsey and Co. for two years when Alejandro Ramírez Magaña invited him to join a team of consultants for the Social Cabinet under President Vicente Fox’s government. After he had joined the Cabinet, he followed Ramírez and his team to the Mexican Embassy to the OECD in Paris, as first secretary of the Delegation. In 2005, Rivera joined Cinépolis as director of strategic planning. Four years into the job, he accepted his current position in cinema programming. “I have always been fascinated by the movies,” he says, “so it was an incredible opportunity to be close to one of my passions.”

Favorite Theatres: Cinépolis VIP Samara, Cinépolis Universidad and Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas in Del Mar
Favorite Films: The Empire Strikes Back, Pulp Fiction, Memento
Favorite Movie Snack: Popcorn and regular Coke
On Cinépolis: “One of the most exciting moments was the opening of our 3,000th screen in our Cinépolis Luxury Cinema in Westlake, California.”