The nation’s theater owners were asked today by the head of a major Hollywood studio to have healthier snacks at their concession stands in addition to their traditional offerings of candy, popcorn and soda.
In a speech at ShoWest, the nation’s largest convention for the movie theater industry, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton said, “adding healthier options to your existing menu is the right thing to do for our industry, for audiences and for our country.”
Lynton said a poll of moviegoers commissioned by Sony Pictures revealed:
two-thirds of moviegoers and three-quarters of parents are more likely to buy healthy snacks at theaters if they are offered;
forty-two percent of parents said they would buy concessions more often if healthy options were available;
sixty percent of parents said having healthier snacks in theaters would enhance their overall moviegoing experience;
Lynton said he was not asking theaters to stop selling popcorn, soda and candy. “Audiences love them,” he said. “I’m just talking about adding some healthier items to what you already sell.”
Lynton also announced that the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has offered to meet with the theater owners “and offer advice on how to change your menus in a way that makes sense for your audiences and your business.”
“The private sector, including the theatre industry, has the ability to improve the access families have to healthier foods and beverages,” said President Bill Clinton, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, who co-leads the Alliance for a Healthier Generation with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and American Heart Association President Clyde Yancy. “The Alliance brokered voluntary agreements with the beverage industry that resulted in an 88 percent decrease in beverage calories shipped to America’s schools in just a few years. We are eager to work with the movie theater industry to craft similar agreements to provide healthy concession options in movie theaters.”
“In order to turn the tide on the obesity epidemic we are going to need to make soup to nuts changes in the number of calories we take in and the calories we actively use. Because kids are eating and foraging at home, school, sporting events and at the movies, changes are needed everywhere,” said Dr. Neal Halfon, professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA and director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. “We can’t expect kids to make healthy choices if they aren’t given healthy choices to make. And while this is a nationwide problem, and will require support from companies with a national stature like Sony Pictures and large theater chains, it will also depend on the ingenuity and commitment of local theater operators to make the difference in their communities.”
In a videotaped message to the convention, Dr. Mehmet Oz, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University and host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” said, “Everyone enjoys popcorn and a soda at the movies, but there are healthier alternatives. Good nutrition doesn’t mean eating spinach at every meal. But with so many children and teens going to movies so often these days, I think we’ve got to be mindful about what they’re eating and drinking, and giving them the chance to choose healthier food makes a lot of sense.”
Lynton said theater owners should consider taking this step because childhood obesity is an epidemic, it’s the responsible thing to do for audiences and society, and it’s good for their business because it would help families enjoy theaters even more and, by giving them healthier options, more snacks will be purchased.
Regarding what kinds of snacks might be offered at theaters, Lynton said, “I don’t think giant tubs of spinach or broccoli’s a good idea. And nobody wants to eat cauliflower while watching Spider-Man, or drink a 40-ounce cup of prune juice.”
He said moviegoers suggested to the studio’s interviewers the kind of snacks they’d like to see:
fresh fruit, fruit cups, apples with dip;
veggies with dip;
granola bars and trail mix;
baked chips, apples chips and unbuttered, air-popped popcorn.
Lynton said some people sneak healthy snacks into movie theaters, like a granola bar or a box of raisins, which represents an untapped market for concession stands. “People are consuming food differently these days. In fact, many of your theaters are located near Starbucks and Whole Foods and in malls and other places where consumers are now finding more nutritious food and beverage options. Audiences would love both a great theatrical experience and terrific snacks.”
Lynton said employees at Sony Pictures are offered a subsidized healthy lunch special and expanded salad bar at the studio commissary. He noted some theaters are moving in the direction of offering healthier foods; some use canola oil instead of coconut oil for their popcorn. He also said he understands that some things “will prove to be logistically or economically impossible But even small steps in the right direction can have a big impact.”