Popcorn sold at the cinema is a great example of a business success story. It shows how transforming an inexpensive product into something that hits a sentimental nerve, increases the profit margin exponentially. As Geiling writes in the fascinating article ‘Why Do We Eat Popcorn at the Movies?’, maize’s humble beginnings as a long distant relative of the 8000 year old teosinte shows just how enduring this little seed has been.
So where exactly did this tradition of popcorn in conjunction with movies happen?
And, more importantly, why is it so expensive? As Geiling puts it, because it is where the bulk of the cinema’s profit comes from (while here we thought it was the $17 3D IMAX tickets), and more bluntly, because they can.
She explains ‘popcorn, cheap to make and easy to mark-up, is the primary profit maker for movie theatres. Movie theatres make an estimated 85 percent profit off of concession sales, and those sales constitute 46 percent of movie theater’s overall profits.’
The act of eating something tasty can also transform or distract you from a subpar film. As you munch away on that delicious popcorn, suddenly the mundane rom com is great, and the action blockbuster vaguely interesting.
The Pavlovian response had been created in consumers to pair popcorn with the movies, and in turn the profits of such a humble kernel has skyrocketed. The emotional and sensorial association of popcorn with movies is too strong to resist and it looks like it’s here to stay.
So next time you hear someone making obnoxious crunching noises in the theatre and are ready to shut them up, don’t. They probably just paid 1/10 of their rent on it. Let them enjoy it.