Movie Theater Popcorn: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Posted on April 3, 2011 at 9:00 am

The Food and Drug Administration released its proposed rules on disclosure of nutritional and calorie information for the food served in chain restaurants. But intense lobbying by the theater industry has led to a great big loophole — movie snacks are not covered, “even though a large popcorn and soda can contain as many calories as a typical person needs in a day.”

Movie theaters have to send all of their first few weeks’ ticket sale revenues to the studio. They get to keep a portion only later, after early crowds have already seen the films. They make their money on the jumbo snacks with the jumbo mark-ups. (Movie popcorn usually costs them less than the cardboard vats it is served in). And they know that giving consumers accurate information about the calorie and fat content of the snacks might scare customers into coming into the theater with a pocket full of baby carrots to munch on instead. The trade association argued that people want to take a break from their diets when they go to the movies, just like they want to take a break from their daily lives. That may be true, but it is no reason to keep them from the information they need to make that decision.

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23 Replies to “Movie Theater Popcorn: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. Well this is one more reason to watch the movie at home, at least you can look at the box of microwave popcorn for the nutritional value. On another note I don’t understand why theaters don’t switch over to the commercial air poppers that are out there, no oil involved and better for the consumer. I think if I were a theater owner I would market that as one of many reasons to come to my theater. 🙂

  2. Air-popped popcorn does not taste as good and salt will not stick to it because of the lack of oil. The salt is instrumental in inducing theater-goers to buy beverages because it makes them thirsty. Why would a theater do something that makes its products less tasty and impacts sales of others? They can post the nutrition information if they want to (or are required to) but I suspect no one will pay any attention to it.

  3. I have known for a long time that the cost of the cup is the largest part of the cost of a cup of soda on ice (learned in training from the franchise holder at a fast-food outlet) so I am not surprised by the cardboard vat cost “news”. I am mildly interested in how the costs are broken down in a $6 cup of soda vs. a $6 vat of popcorn, but I still will get one of each before the show. And add a healthy(?) load of melted “butter” as well. I can eat smaller portions at the next several meals and try to walk a little longer between to balance an occasional hour of pleasurable decadence. If push comes to shove, I consider supporting the theater through the snack shop something over which I have more control than raising the price of tickets to the point where I can enjoy neither.

  4. I believe the FDA. needs to do a lot more research on many items theaters or not as so many new products have hit the market lately in such a short time many to sweet for you and many just don’t fit the nutritional value to be called food. As for the popcorn, yes air popped is better, also the whole thing of prices is so far fetched anymore for the tickets and snacks its a wonder people are not bring in their own snacks and drinks, many do already.

    1. David, Murph, and Sonia — Thanks for great comments. If everyone was as thoughtful as the three of you about food choices and ticket prices, it would be a better world.

  5. Where I do agree going to the movie’s is a needed ‘Get Away ‘ for many movie-goer’s… I firmly disagree that also includes a ‘Get Away’ from a healthy lifestyle. The unhealthy ..Oil….butter… Hydrongenated Fats and Sugar in Theatre Popcorn and Soda only leads to an UNWANTED Get-Away from life and a trip to the Cardiac Unit of your local Hospital…or the Unwanted Diabetes diagnosis..!!!!
    Health ALWAYS matters..!! It’s with your for a lifetime…the Movie experience is only temporary.

  6. This is another on many ways in which those we should trust for maintaining our welfare is only maintaining their own finance. They peddle poison, they sell us dangerous products and make it obvious that their main concern is their capital gain.

  7. I personally go to the movie theater for the popcorn. If people are unhappy with the concessions–sneak your own stuff in or don’t go. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with in this world and I am not asking that changes be made for me. Everyone has their own opinion and can make their own choice.

  8. Well I also am hooked on the popcorn. But I thought they came up with a low calorie replacement for the butter. At least thats what its supposed to be at the AMC theaters. Prices for snacks are horrendous I agree, get away or no get away. Its like buying another movie ticket. Be prepared to spend $35 to 40 bucks if you bring a friend. Any further increases in prices and I’m going to have stay home watch dvd’s or Netflix and a nice big bag of low salt low calorie micro wave pop corn. How come they don’t sell diet sprite at theaters?

  9. I’ve stopped buying popcorn at most movie theaters because, with the one theater (I know they pop theirs fresh), I’ve found the popcorn I’ve bought has been stale and even moldy (yuck!!!). I believe in order to save money, many of the theaters leave the popcorn from the previous evening instead of cleaning out the machine at the end of the day. When I complained about this at one theater, I received a coupon for more popcorn. No, they didn’t change their practices…I just got more stale moldy popcorn! Now I bring a baggie of Cheerios in my purse. I know it isn’t buttered but it does fill the need for popping something into my mouth, and I know it’s much much better for me. Try it…you may be surprised and satisfied.

  10. The opinions of some of you folks are unbelievable; not because of what they are, but from the very idea that the rest of the world should have to abide by your choices. Do any of you have any idea what it means to live in a free country? Movie theaters are in business to make money – period. They aren’t there for your entertainment, social agenda or any altruistic purpose. They are a business and they are there to make money.

    The movies they show are there because it is what you are willing to spend money on and the foods they serve are there because it is what you spend money on. If people bought rice cakes, they’d serve rice cakes. You think the theater owner cares what he sells? he wants you to buy something and will sell what you buy.

    Air-popped popcorn? I can’t imagine why people put it in their mouth. It has little flavor, it has an unpleasant texture and an undesirable odor. Since it is not a staple of the food supply, why chew on it? You’d do as well to shred a few napkins and eat those. If you find the popcorn they serve unpleasant, CHOOSE something else – that’s what freedom means – and leave me to CHOOSE what pleases me. It’s a free country and a free theater, partake of what you like and leave what you don’t like, and if you think there should be more options, start your own theater and offer them. That’s the nice thing about America, you are free to do that. My guess, you’ll be out of business in 6 months. Why? Because no one will pay money for those things you believe they should serve.

    p.s. Fast food restaurants are no different. They offer what they offer because it is what you buy. They have tried healthy choices – no one buys them.

    1. PJ, I don’t think anyone is trying to tell movie theaters what to offer or consumers what to buy. But I think it is fair to expect them to disclose information to theater-goers to allow them to make informed decisions. I’ll bet the new disclosures for chain restaurants will begin to skew sales in favor of healthier options — it did for me at Panera yesterday!

      Skyleysc, I love the idea of a baggie of Cheerios!

  11. I agree that movie theaters should be required to post nutrition information on the products they sell, just as grocery stores and restaurants do, for consistancy in the law, if nothing else. I do not think this will stop people from buying pops and popcorn with butter. Information on calories in pop and calories and fat in oils and butter has been readily available to the public for years. Most of us know how many calories a bottle of pop has, yet pop sales have’t decreased, they’ve increased. Same with fast food. I would love to see a few lighter snack alternatives offered at movie theaters, because I do not take my own snacks into movies. You are not supposed to. Movie theater ushers can remove you if they catch you. True, they might not catch me, but I don’t want to set a bad example for my children.

    1. A wonderful comment, Renate — highly principled in every category. Many thanks.

  12. My wish is that people just let people eat what they want! I know that candy and cookies and heavily buttered popcorn aren’t great for me–especially if I eat too much but I DON’T need anyone monitoring what I eat or anyone trying to get the gov’t to remove anything from the store shelves, movie theatres, etc! IF YOU DON’T WANT IT–DON’T EAT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT’S THAT SIMPLE BUT LEAVE ME ALONE!

    1. Thanks, Renae. No one is trying to tell anyone what to eat or not eat — just making sure people have the information they need to make that decision.

  13. When I would go to see a movie at a theater I would have either the large or jumbo popcorn with all the yuckie fake butter, have a large clear non caf. drink. But I share this with whom ever I have come to the movie with , just me and husband or one of my daughters or even the above and grandkids. So we all share and each gets some.Bad things shared are not so bad and it makes the movie experiance fun.

  14. Theaters could make their popcorn healthier if they could revert to popping it in coconut oil like they use to do. Unfortunately, the soybean and corn oil lobbyist won out and coconut oil was demonized. Too bad since of those three only coconut oil is healthy for you. Do your internet research and you will agree. I cook my foods in coconut oil and they taste great. Look it up folks, don’t believe me.

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