Movie Candy

November 30, 2009 at 7:46 am 1 comment

candy and the movies

1951 Movie Concession Sales

If you’ve been to a movie theater lately, you’ve probably noticed the candy counter at the concession stand. At my local cine-plex, big boxes of gummi bears and Junior Mints can be had at $3.00 a pop. It’s a lot more than what the drug store down the street is charging, but I’m a captive audience. Besides, what’s a movie without a huge candy overdose? Pricey, absolutely. Concession sales today account for over 40 percent of movie theaters’ net revenue.

The first movie theaters were the nickelodeons of the 1900s and teens, simple affairs where 5 cents could by any news boy or seamstress a few moments of magical escape. It was a popular entertainment: by 1914, 27 percent of Americans were regularly attending the moving picture shows.

Early theaters did not sell refreshments. As nickelodeons gave way to more opulent movie palaces in the 1920s, operators wanted to keep the atmosphere “classy,” and lip smacking and litter didn’t fit. But by the 1930s, the economic squeeze of the Depression was affecting revenues. New theaters were smaller and less luxurious. Selling candy, popcorn, and sodas was a way to bring more money into the theaters. By the 1940s, concession stands were in every theater, and sales of food and drink were a big money-maker.

Conecession sales took off fast. In 1951, concession sales were accounting for 22 percent of the gross revenues at the nations 19,500 indoor theaters. 3 out of five theater patrons were buying refreshments before or during the show. At the 2,500 drive ins around the country, the numbers were even higher, with concessions bringing in 45 cents for every ticket dollar.

Popcorn was the biggest seller, bringing $193 million to theater coffers that year. Candy followed a close second, at $135 million. That amounted to $2.5 million each week spent on candy at the nation’s movie theaters.

In many of the theaters, kids were the biggest buyers of candy. The most popular items were the “nickel bars” and other five-cent items including chewing gum. As many in the candy trade agitated to move to a more lucrative ten-cent candy bar, the theaters were against it, even if it meant making the nickel bars smaller. Movie theaters prized the ‘kids trade,’ and feared that “a boost in price to a dime would drastically reduce sales to children.”

The big competitor for the movie-goers dime was popcorn. Sugar had been rationed during the second world war, and popcorn had become more common and more popular as a result. One candy industry booster thought popcorn should go:

I venture the opinion that one of the reasons for the ’death’ of movie houses is because of the odor and noise from popcorn. As to the quality of motion pictures presented, that is a question open to debate but smell is smell, and noise is a noise, and my guess is that some of those who may be reading this editorial have been annoyed just as much as I have through smelly and noisy popcorn and stay away from movies.

Smelly, noisy popcorn vs. fragrant, soft candy… no contest!

Source: “Theatre Field Prefers Five-Cent Candy Bars” Confectioners Journal July 1951 p 30; “Movies and Candy and Popcorn,” Confectioners Journal Aug. 1953 p. 63; Jill Pellittieri, Make it a Large for a Quarter More? A short history of concession stands. Slate, June 26, 2007

Entry filed under: Marketing, WWII to 1960s. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. chad cork  |  October 10, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Hello there and I hope that you are having a great day. I am writing to find out some information about early candies in movie theaters. Does anyone know if there are any companies (not big corporations) that still sale old style candy that they use to sale at the movies? Also does anyone know what the first candy was that was introduced to the movie theater? Thank you in advance for your time.

    Regards

    Reply

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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