Legislators and theater owners may be worried about the health of the moviegoing public, but vendor trends indicate audiences have other priorities. New sugary desserts joining conventional candy and ice cream offerings include milkshakes and s’mores, with many companies moving toward self-service machines. Those machines come at a high price point, however, but cut down on the costs of manpower behind the counter. That’s become a trend too, with exhibition execs attending CinemaCon this week quietly planning to cut hours for part-time employees to less than 30 hours a week in order to avoid paying for their health care under ObamaCare.
The self-serve milkshake vendor F’real is attempting to break into the movie theater racket after placing their units in 7500 locations in North America, according to the company. What’s paved the way is Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine, which allows customers to choose from hundreds of flavored soda combinations in a single unit. Theaters have been slow adopters of Freestyle, execs told me, because it alters the traditional behind-the-counter workflow of concessions counters. But with 14K units and counting springing up across the country and increasingly in major chain theaters, the long-developing technology is catching on.
Meanwhile, some chains like Cinemark have attempted to eliminate transfats from their offerings and offer a variety of healthier options. But staple concessions like hot dogs and pretzels are still top sellers — with a twist: Foodstuffs in half-, bite-sized, and stuffed versions dominated CinemaCon’s trade floor this year. “People are moving more toward finger foods”, said J + J Snacks’ Jim Petersen, whose company’s bestsellers include pretzel bites. Mini hot dogs are also on the rise. “You can buy a basket of them and share with your friends!” I heard one vendor exclaim.