Why You Might Not Be Able To Order Your Favorite Snacks At The Movies

There are many reasons people enjoy watching movies in theatres. Some go for the big screen experience, while others are in it for the sound. And when theatergoers give up a night on the couch for a night in the cinema, many people buy popcorn or other snacks. In fact, 49% of 10,242 people across 35 U.S. states who spoke to Film Journal International say they hit the concession stands "every time." Their wants are specific, too: 39% say they buy popcorn, 33% pick up a soda, and 12% look for candy. The survey, which was conducted in 2018, also reveals that popcorn is the most popular purchase for 90% of those aged over 51 and that 82% of those who buy popcorn also buy soda. After all, theater popcorn and microwave popcorn weren't created equally.

The results of that survey should be music to the ears of movie theatre operators. Instead, The Wall Street Journal explains that some operators are reopening box offices with more than a twinge of apprehension, because, as with everything else on the food supply chain, movie theatres are being threatened by a supply shortage that could compromise supplies of everything from snack staples like popcorn and candy to the containers that are used to carry them.

Popcorn supplies are expected to tighten

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies like Preferred Popcorn, which supplies kernels exclusively to theatres, saw sales plummet as people pivoted from watching movies at theaters to staying home and watching Netflix instead. Like most bulk suppliers, Preferred Popcorn didn't have a way of taking its products and packaging them for home consumption, since its corn only came in bags of 50 or 100 lbs. The Washington Post explains that it was only after collaborating with online grocery subscription service Misfits Market that it was able to move at least 40,000 pounds of kernels out of silos and into home kitchens.

But today, the situation with popping corn has reversed, with Preferred Popcorn's chief executive Norm Krug warning that "popcorn supply will be tight," as farmers are choosing to stop growing dent corn crops used to make popcorn. Now, many are pivoting to growing soybeans and other types of corn instead, per The Wall Street Journal. Then there is the problem of how to keep popcorn affordable, since fertilizer, which once cost $100,000, now costs Krug $300,000. Krug also notes that he must pay farmers more to keep growing dent corn.

Movie theaters are being challenged by supply chain shortages

Unfortunately, the problem isn't limited to popcorn. Cintergy Entertainment Group CEO Jeff Benson, whose firm has eight theatres and entertainment centers across three Southern states, tells The Wall Street Journal that the special packaging for cups, popcorn bags, and nacho trays is becoming more difficult to come by. Even soda flavors may be in jeopardy.

Director of operations for Connecticut's Prospector Theatre Ryan Wenke even revealed to NBC that the shortages have been happening for some time now. "For a certain time a few months ago, it was difficult to get the canola oil for the popcorn and it wasn't because they didn't have enough oil. It's because they didn't have the glue to enclose the box that the oil bib goes in," Wenke explained.

That there could be a popcorn shortage shouldn't come as a surprise as supplies for cereals like you couldn't find Grape-Nuts anymore until the pandemic began to wane. But that doesn't make a potential popcorn shortage any easier to swallow for theatre owners, who have waited two long years to welcome people back since the pandemic broke out in 2020. And while they had hoped to use concession stands to offset the financial losses they saw during the pandemic years, shortages mean that won't happen for some time to come.