The Concession Food Industry Endures Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
How Venues and Concessionaires are Responding to Challenges During COVID-19
2020 has been an unprecedented year for the world, and the concession industry is no exception. Most traditional concession venues were forced to close just as their peak season should have been beginning. And now, as many locations are gradually being allowed to reopen, they are facing new sets of challenges and opportunities. How is the concession food industry persevering? With creativity, tenacity, and a solid commitment to giving customers the service experience they deserve.
Drive-Ins Seize Unique Opportunity
While conventional movie theaters saw their doors shuttered, drive-in movie theaters made a remarkable comeback providing consumers with an outlet for the entertainment they seek. Reports from across the country reveal increased attendance and even shut-down theaters being reopened. In some cases, traditional theaters converted parking lots into drive-ins. Parks and stadiums have also been noted doing the same. While new movie releases remain on the horizon, for now, classic favorites, children’s movies, and even concerts have been filling the screens. Traditional snack bars are now seeing changes, like many launching ordering apps or incorporating runners to bring food directly to cars.
Curbside Pickup for Your Favorite Concession Foods
From movie theaters to food trucks to carnival concession stands, a number of innovative concessionaires stepped up to bring the best concession foods to the public via curbside pickup. Popcorn lovers could pick up their favorite movie theater popcorn and candy to enjoy at home. With fairs and festivals shut down, one Florida carnival food vendor, Matthew Lautherk set up a drive-thru called “Taste of the Fair to Go,” serving everything from cotton candy and funnel cakes to corn dogs and turkey legs. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues to develop.
Prepackaged Foods Increase in Prominence
According to Dan Borschke, Executive Vice President of the National Association of Concessionaires, many venues are turning to prepackaged options, like sealed bags or plastic popcorn tub toppers as standard. Prepackaged foods offer benefits that are key as businesses reopen. The packaging allows the product to have a longer shelf life. It decreases the waste of unused product. And it minimizes labor, allowing items to be more grab-and-go. Operators can choose from manufacturer premade products or they can make their own and package it. Borschke also noted that specials could be an integral part of promoting concession sales, “We may see more bundled or all-inclusive pricing packages to encourage ordering.”
Technology Prompts Change
One of the ways concession food manufacturers are responding is through equipment advancements. For example, Gold Medal offers two versions of contactless popcorn dispensing stations. This set-up is extremely practical and functions well for movie theaters, stadiums/arenas, and other large venues. Additionally, venues are adopting cashless systems and mobile ordering/delivery systems, forging a new niche for technology development.
The Importance of an Online Presence
Retailers such as popcorn shops are finding success by taking their business virtual. Online shops are used for taking orders and shipping directly to customers or making arrangements for pick-up. Social media is being used to promote new flavors and specials. Restaurants are realizing that online order capabilities can be integral to pushing carryout and/or delivery orders. These evolutions make you question, could we see other venues, like movie theaters or amusement parks, begin to offer their signature concession food items for online purchase?
Building Consumer Confidence is Key
Every effort must be made by venues to gain the customers’ trust. Borschke states how all elements from cleaning and sanitizing to social distancing measures and product packaging all play a role in demonstrating responsibility, care, and concern for the patrons. In order to be successful, operators must be willing to test the waters and navigate them through both the ups and downs. While these may be changing times, we can still be proactive in our response and always keep the customer as top of mind.
You’re Not Alone
Yes, these are challenging circumstances for us all. But there is great power when we align together. Customers and vendors need to remember their relationships and rely on one another for the ideas that will push our industry to success. Industry groups are truly stepping up as a resource. Borschke reports that the NAC hosts a twice-weekly conference call. “What started with 15 or 20 participants has exploded to 70 or 80,” he shared. The calls include special guest speakers, topical discussions of best practices, and time for questions. Further programs, certifications, and seminars are planned. Details can be found at naconline.org.
The concession industry is one that has stood the test of time. Make no mistake that the nostalgic and enjoyable nature that comes with popcorn, cotton candy, funnel cakes, and all the other concession favorites will continue. While this chapter may not be what we had anticipated for 2020, we look forward to overcoming, innovating, and pioneering the concessions of the future together.