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Brands are king when it comes to movie theater concession sales

"The same top items are the same top items."

Close up photograph of popcorn in a white cardboard box
Image credit: Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

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Have you ever wondered why you always see the very same candy when you head to the concession stands at your local theater? Well, we certainly did, and we took advantage of being so close to concessions professionals at this year’s CinemaCon to find out more, and it turns out that recognizable brands are still king in the movie theater industry, and a lot of that has to do with how we think about going to the theater.

According to Jeff Peterson, a senior customer manager at Mars Wrigley, “What really works in the theater space is big brands. Moviegoing is a very habitual thing and ritualistic thing, and people really gravitate towards those brands that they grew up with, and for us, that’s M&Ms and Skittles. The same core brands have really performed in the theater speace for years. These aren’t our brands, but think of a brand like Raisinettes. Raisinettes is not a huge seller nationally, but sells pretty well in the theater space because ‘My grandpa took me to the theater, he always wanted to have Raisinettes.' It’s a very ritualistic experience. The same top items are the same top items."

The Senior Vice President of Dippin’ Dots Matt Inderlied, who was attending the show to talk to theater owners about carrying the company's iconic flash frozen treat, shared that their recent Icee flavor (mixing two very recognizable movie theater names) was a huge success, saying "the Icee flavor has done really well for us, it was actually the best new product launch in the history of the company.” (For those who are waiting for the next big crossover, Inderlied said that regarding another crossover, It’s always in the works, nothing announced at this point in time.”)

But even though the classics are still the classics, product purchases can vary from location to location. I asked Chris Ortino, president of AICP Corp (a broker between wholesale distributors and movie theater chains), about how snack sales differ region-wise. Ortino answered, “Generally certain products sell better in areas. Like Swedish fish, for instance - Northeast really strong. Utah for some reason is really strong, and the West Coast. Hot Tamales you would think would be the Southeast but its actually the upper Midwest. So yeah, there’s still regionality in candy.”

And, if you’re wondering if your movie theater’s new fancy meal menu is eating into concessions profit margins even if a burger isn't a classic movie snack, the answer, according to Orino is yes. ”It does eat into the total dollar spend of course. I mean, there’s wallet share, right? So if someone comes in with twenty dollars and they’re gonna buy a hamburger, there’s that much less to spend on an ice candy and popcorn. But generally speaking, 80 percent of sales in a movie theater are the traditional candy, popcorn, and soda.”

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