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Friday, April 4, 2014

The History of Theater Concessions

Concession stands have become a staple of the movie going experience. Popcorn, candy, or soda, concessions bring many theaters nearly half of their revenue and are a huge part of theaters across the world. It may be hard to imagine, then, that in the early days of movie theaters concessions were not sold as they are today.

In fact, many theater owners didn’t allow food and worked hard to keep it out. But, like other crowded events, food vendors saw a chance to make a profit and sold their popcorn and peanuts outside of theaters for people to take inside. Despite theater owners’ best efforts, these foods were wildly popular among crowds and they couldn’t stop the food from entering their establishments.

When nickelodeons went out of style and big, grand theaters were being built across the country, the new theater owners were even more adamant about not allowing food inside. They hated the mess and didn’t want their expensive, high-class establishments to be overrun with peanut shells and other garbage left behind by moviegoers.

Then the Great Depression hit, and theaters needed a way to make more profit from their strapped-for-cash guests. Theater owners saw the demand for food and conceded bringing popcorn machines into their establishments. Because popcorn was so inexpensive, they could sell it at the low price their guests required yet still make a profit from it.

Theater candies during WWII were limited due to sugar rations, but when the war was over and sugar could be bought and sold freely, candy and soda became hugely popular among theater attendees.

Junior Mints, named after Shirley Temple’s Broadway show “Junior Miss,” quickly became a popular candy, as did the teeth-sticking Dots, both of which are still popular today. M&Ms had been popular among soldiers in the war and were introduced in theaters after it ended. They still remain one of the highest-selling theater candies today.

In the 1970s, what we now know as Sour Patch Kids were introduced. They were originally called Mars Men due to the large interest in UFOs and sci-fi movies, but when Cabbage Patch Kids became popular in the 80s, they changed the name to Sour Patch Kids and they have been sold at cinemas ever since. Reese’s Pieces were also introduced late in the 1970s, but didn’t gain popularity until they were used in E.T., one of the most effective movie product placements to this day.

Gummy bears and other fruity candies are popular among children, and sales have remained high since they were introduced. Swedish Fish, Jujubes, and Mike & Ikes are a staple concessions candy both kids and adults love. Large candy companies have kept moviegoers in mind within their brands, creating bite-sized versions of their most popular candy bars, such as Butterfinger Bites.

Miniature-izing the candies and making smaller versions makes them easier to share among groups, and therefore a popular choice in concession stands.

Small candies make a good theater choice and often last longer than larger candies. Gobstoppers and Sprees dissolve slowly, making them an excellent choice for those long movies that seem to be gaining popularity again.

Whoppers and Milk Duds are also popular, with high sales among a wide range of ages. Though nobody seems to like raisins, Raisinets are also a top seller in theaters across the country.

Concession stands have gotten bigger and bigger, offering hot dogs, nachos, pizza, and other food items. Some theaters are now introducing restaurants and full food service, some even offering alcohol to older patrons.

Even as theaters change and moviegoers become accustomed to more and more, they still buy candy at a rapid pace, sales not suffering among the newer, bigger options.

Even with the popularity of popcorn and other foods, the demand for candy in the theater has lasted since its introduction, and it will continue to last even as theaters change. What started as something theaters hated has now become what gives them nearly half of their revenue.

The demands of moviegoers have changed, from popcorn during the Depression to candy and soda after the war, and theaters have managed to change with the times. Candy has stuck around through it all and continues to be some of the most popular choices among theater concession stand sales.

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