Tasty alternative: Gourmet popcorn addresses the 'captive crowd' problem


Customers have always gone to theatres to be surprised, escape to another world, and be treated to something special. They also expect concession purchases as part of the overall experience, and often splurge above their budget if something looks particularly tempting.

Yet, gas, movie ticket and concession prices continue to increase while alternative entertainment options keep expanding. In turn, guests have developed high expectations and are placing increasing demands on theatres. If those aren’t met, not only may they not buy concessions during their visit, but this may impact how they spend their leisure money later. This is the “captive crowd” problem.

In order to address the dilemma, we need to lay out three main areas, including a simple solution that has multiple variations to place the profit power back in your hands.

Customer Expectations (a pretty straightforward list):
• A wide variety of quality products, including some fresh fare
• Traditional, must-have concession items
• Something different and dramatic
• An assortment of price points that correspond to the value of products they’re enjoying

Theatre Concerns (a more subjective list, which can depend on the market’s demands and tastes)
• What will be the hot item?
• Product waste and lost profits
• How to combat customers sneaking in food
• How to keep traditional money-makers and stand apart from the competition
• Will new items detract from other top sellers?

Solutions (a.k.a., jumping-off points which you can tailor to fit your market)

Gourmet popcorn (traditionally caramel corn and cheese corn) has consistently grown in popularity over the years, but it’s now also touted in many media outlets as a Food Trend of 2013. It’s popping up everywhere: specialty shops, food trucks, weddings, fundraising drives, and restaurants.

Good news: The trend is moving popcorn beyond the traditional perception, flavor combinations are expanding, and it’s quickly becoming a must-have food for everyone. Seeing and smelling it at numerous locations increases the craveability quotient, growing your chances of sales without any of the work.

Bad News: More competition for popcorn profits. But there are ways to combat this problem; that’s where the drama and the “something-different-demand” come in for your captive audience. Below are a few interesting tweaks to capitalize on the trend and show your customers why there is nothing else like the delicious crunch of movie theatre corn.

• Build on the Excitement—Popcorn in general has appealing health benefits. Studies have shown fiber-rich popcorn has higher levels of healthy antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables. The rising popularity affords opportunities. It’s up to you decide how best to capitalize on them.
o Gourmet popcorn can provide tasty alternatives for those seeking lower sodium or cholesterol options.
o Surging take-home sales. Guests always think of eating at a theatre. But why not offer gift options in a variety of resalable container sizes?
o There are messaging opportunities to remind customers about the benefits, which can combat the news stories or social-media mentions that can cause concerns. Just be mindful of wording, then allow the customer to choose how to and how much to enjoy.

• Flavor Twists: It doesn’t take a lot to make a big impact. In some cases, the flavorings can be added after popping, and others need to be cooked in a mixer.
o Spicy Salt—This flavor combination has been trending for a while and shows no sign of peaking. It’s a great alternative for guests looking to decrease fat without sacrificing taste. Try shake-on flavor combinations like bacon jalapeño.
o Premium White Cheddar— Add either truffle oil or create attention-gathering action by cracking fresh black pepper on it right before serving (or let guests add their own).
o Rosemary and Parmesan—Dash it on when the corn is fresh from the kettle.
o Sweet Favorites—Try sensations like the following or create your own: Peanut Butter Corn made with melted Flavor Wafers, Wedding Cake Frosting with secret ingredients like kettle corn mix, or Cinnamon Swirl Caramel Corn topped with White Chocolate.
o Sirachi—Another hot note; it’s a bold, satisfying blend of peppers, vinegar, and garlic.
o Sweet & Sassy Caramel Corn—It’s the perfect tongue-tingling mix of caramel corn with 5 Alarm Blaze Hot Flavor Additive cooked right in the mixer.

• Make it Personal—New advancements in flavor-only and color-only glazes allow you to tailor the treats through a number of combinations.
o Create specialty mixes for promotions, blockbuster features, or holidays.
o Generate community interest and involvement by partnering on special events with local schools, corporations (team building), or charitable organizations. Host it in the theatre or attend outside events—popcorn is the perfect, impactful giveaway.
o Take a note from other businesses that are really mixing it up by hosting non-traditional events like chamber meetings or happy-hour fundraising galas. The gourmet popcorn could be the favors, or woven into the event. Keep in mind some shops are selling caramel corn topped with edible 24-Karat Gold.

Even though they’re now being called a 2013 Food Trend, caramel corn and other gourmet popcorn flavors have been consistently growing in popularity. An early version of Cracker Jack® hit the market in 1893, and people are still “discovering” the sweet taste of caramel corn every day. Use this recognition to grab attention from the competition, and give guests the drama they expect in a snack they can’t resist. Try catchy flavors and see what pops, make your new menu items complement known money-makers, and get your staff excited so they can honestly help with the upsell and solve the captive crowd problem.