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Who Made Movie Popcorn?

Here is my DJK take-away:  Originally, and intuitively, the money was in showing movies: The marketing mix consisted of great movies, beautiful theaters, audience experience. Theater owners feared that audiences would strew popcorn and peanuts on their lush carpets. They hung signs discouraging people from bringing in food from vendors parked outside and didn’t sell it themselves. Then... they realized that the money was in popcorn, not ticket sales. (That’s still true today. Movie theaters reap as much as 85 percent of their profits from concession sales.)  Another example; give away the razor to sell the blades. So.. How does Randa monetize this concept.  Where should our models be turned on their heads?  DJK

Who Made Movie Popcorn?

In the 1920s, movie palaces rose up around the country like so many portals into a glamorous world. After you bought a ticket, you might pass through gilded archways and ascend a grand staircase lighted by a crystal chandelier to find your velvet seat. Eating was not meant to be part of the experience, says Andrew F. Smith, author of “Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America.” Theater owners feared that audiences would strew popcorn and peanuts on those crimson carpets. They hung signs discouraging people from bringing in food from vendors parked outside and didn’t sell it themselves.
A widow named Julia Braden in Kansas City, Mo., was one of the rare concessionaires who managed to talk her way inside. She persuaded the Linwood Theater to let her set up a stand in the lobby and eventually built a popcorn empire. By 1931, she owned stands in or near four movie theaters and pulled in more than $14,400 a year — the equivalent of $336,000 in today’s dollars. Her business grew even in the midst of the Depression, at the same time that thousands of elegant theaters went bust.
According to Smith, it’s impossible to establish who sold the first box of movie popcorn. For decades, vendors operated out of wagons parked near theaters, circuses and ballparks, selling a variety of snacks. But Braden seems to have been among the first to set up concessions linked to movie houses — and to pioneer a new business strategy: the money was in popcorn, not ticket sales. (That’s still true today. Movie theaters reap as much as 85 percent of their profits from concession sales.)

In the mid-1930s, a manager named R. J. McKenna, who ran a chain of theaters in the West, caught on to this idea. An old man selling popcorn outside one of McKenna’s movie houses amassed enough money to buy a house, a farm and a store. McKenna installed a popcorn machine in the lobby and collected the proceeds — as much as $200,000 in 1938. With that kind of money rolling in, who cared about the rugs? McKenna lowered the price of tickets just to draw more people to his concession stand. By the 1940s, most theaters had followed suit, and soon the smell of melted butter wafted through lobbies. One entrepreneur of the era offered the following advice: “Find a good popcorn location and build a theater around it.”
Max Robbins is the director of research at Ag Alumni Seed, where he breeds and tests popcorn plants.
What goes into making a new variety? We use classical plant breeding, and one of the traits we look for is pop expansion — how big the kernel is after it pops.
Why is size so important? People prefer the larger-kernel corn. The flake has to be large and attractive. Also, by the way, there are two kinds of flake shapes: butterfly and mushroom. The butterfly flake — that’s what you’re going to see in the movie theater or what you’re going to buy to pop at home. And then you’ve probably seen what we call a mushroom flake when you’re buying caramel corn.
How do you test new varieties of popcorn? We use a machine that’s just like what you’d see at a movie theater. It has been modified with a giant graduated cylinder on its bottom, where normally the guy at the movie theater would be scooping popcorn into a box. That’s so we can measure the volume of popped kernels.
So you must end up eating a lot of popcorn. People will stop by and pick up bags. Some people feed it to their chickens.

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