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z-101 Ways to Promote POPCORN (and Other Fun Foods)

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New England Pretzel and Popcorn
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101 ways to promote popcorn
 
How to Make Money With Popcorn
(And Other Fun Foods)
 
INTRODUCTION
 
Many people purchase a  Popcorn Machine or Funnel Cake Fryer or Cotton Candy Machine and have visions of dollar signs rolling over in their mind -  but when they plug the machine in, the world fails to beat a pathway to the concession stand - and the "Get Rich Quick Dream" is shattered.  There are other people who buy a popcorn machine or cotton candy unit, set it into operation, and have a virtual non-stop profit making operation.  As a matter of fact, when you can sell all the output of virtually any piece of equipment, it doesn't take much more than three solid days, all day long, for that machine to pay for itself out of gross profit margins.
 
What is the key to success?  Certainly, it helps to have a perfect location for it.  Location means being right in the middle of peak traffic, constantly high traffic, so that you don't need to do anything to stimulate sales -  rather, the impulse appeal of popcorn (or other Fun Food) would generate its own sales.
 
Only a fortunate few have this type location - this article is for everybody else who has to work a little bit after you "plug it in"
 
That's right - most people who purchase Fun Food machines cannot plug it in and forget about it! Probably 50% of the people who do just that, still enjoy fairly brisk business - They get an excellent return on their investment - and therefore, they confuse "doing quite well" with "doing as well as possible!"  Therefore, this article should be especially helpful to those who set their Fun Food sales goal high, and constantly are on the lookout for ways to maximize sales of any particular Fun Food - or of all items on the Fun Food snack bar menu.  Yes, almost everybody can do dramatically better with promotional activity or merchandising activity. 
 
Therefore, this article is a smorgasbord of ideas, which can work for you - ideas that no doubt have worked for someone else, and may be working right now for someone else.   Many of these ideas are ones which have been "borrowed" from some of the smartest people in the concession stand operating profession.
 
Of course, some of these items are particularly appropriate for an amusement park - some work particularly will in roller rink - some are more appropriate for a convenience grocery store - some might be ideal for a little league baseball field concession stand.  Therefore, before you start going through the article, Print and go to your desk, pull out your yellow "highlighter" - and, as you go through each idea, use your highlight liner to emphasize ideas which might work for you.
  
It's almost too elementary to say "plan your promotions - then work your plan!"  However, that certainly is the first step on your road to greater snack bar success.
 
POPCORN MACHINE PLACEMENT
 
Your popcorn machine, beverage dispenser, hot dog rotisserie - and any other type of "action" machine should be on the front counter wherever possible - certainly, your highest profit margin items should be "up-front"  There's a difference of 30% to 50% in sales of many impulse snacks which comes when you take the machine off the back bar and put it on the front counter.
 
Illumination:  Always select equipment which has illumination - you pay for that once - the lights under the popper dome attract customers to your snack bar forever.
 
"Profit Pairing": Place your popcorn machine next to the item that is most logical to be sold as a companion snack.  Customers see both, and buy both.  (This is also a way to improve worker productivity when you happen to promote "popcorn and cold drinks" for example.)  Keep the profit mates together.
 
Spend the money to get the machine which says, "Popcorn" in a manner which is as visible as possible from as far away as is possible.  Or, if you're selecting Antique equipment, get your Antique equipment out where people can see it - usually Antique equipment helps attract more attention, create more impulses, and therefore more impulse sales.
 
POPPER APPERANCE
 

The next area in the outline is the "In-Store Popcorn Machine Check List" which mentions several points - each of which actually helps improve popcorn sales.  For your type of operation each of these checkpoints may not be 100% appropriate - so, modify the in-store popcorn machine checklist with checkpoints that are significant.  In addition, the following points help improve popcorn sales.

 

Clean it - every evening at the close of business, pack all of the popped popcorn into polybags, tie it tightly with a twist-em, and then thoroughly clean the machine.

 

Fill it during working hours.  Always keep a moderate display of popped popcorn - never get down to the absolute bottom - likewise, don't fill it all the way up - give room to start popping in advance of an anticipated rush so that the aroma is there.

 

Keep it hot - when you are popping, you may keep the door of the machine open so that the steam given off will escape and not fog up the windows.  Once you have finished popping, keep the machine doors closed so that the corn stays "kettle crisp" all the time.

 

Light it up - make sure you have a light bulbs in the dome working - this point is on the checklist.
 
Keep the kettle clean - with every new Gold Medal popper we have been furnishing a piece of terrycloth which can be folded four to six thickness' and used as a "clean kettle wiper".  Keep your terrycloth clean kettle wiper clean - after every 3 or 4 batches of corn, hold the kettle dumb knob, and with the other hand, take the folded towel and wipe the sides of the kettle with the towel - reverse hands on the kettle dump knob and wipe the lip of the kettle and other side.  Do not bake on spilled popping oil.
 
Use coconut oil for a cleaner kettle - coconut oil is a "fully saturated" popping oil, and will not form black varnish inside and outside the kettle.  Coconut oil will never turn rancid as will virtually every "liquid" oil.
 
Education:   Educate your operator to pop at least 4 or 5 batches each time the machine is turned on.
 
Careful with the scoop:  Do not "jab" the scoop into the tender kernels - rather, try to scoop from the bottom with the metal of the scoop in touch with the metal on the "floor" (or deck) of the popcorn machine.  This will cut back on breadkage.
 
Check the "old maid" drawer - too many old maids can mean your corn has dried out, or you have bought poor corn,  or possibly your kettle is not getting to the proper popping temperature.  That means you are selling tough popcorn - they will never come back for seconds.  If you have too many white "butterfly ears" which have been broken off of kernels and now are in the old maid drawer, re-educate the operator on proper use of the popcorn scoop.  Teach them how to develop a light soft touch - metal to metal contact.
 
Do not over salt - Portion Pak popcorn does not really cost money in the long run - it saves money, because your corn never dries out- you get maximum expansion in every batch of corn - you have exactly the proper corn to salt ratio.  If you over-salt for one solid week, it might take as long as 6 months to get your loyal customers back.  How much does that cost?
 
Containers   specialized containers are available for specialized sales opportunities.  Normally, a popcorn bag is slow working I it requires two hands to eat corn out of a popcorn bag - it's difficult to display corn in paper bags - therefore, make your "personal size" either the popcorn cone (preferable in "walk-away" situations like swimming pools, youth baseball parks, convenience stores, etc.) and go with a couple sizes of popcorn boxes as "popcorn for two" or your "family size."  Where you use tray service such as in a roller rink, fast food location etc. your personal size should be the scoop box.  Do not overlook the "take-home" potential of the "family size" or "party pack".  This would be the 18" (one-gallon size) or 30" (two gallon size) "Heap-O-Corn" polybag, which you tie tightly with a twist-em or you, can heat seal.  Rack them up like cordwood for high impulse sales.
 
Make a change for the butter:  Some people feel theatres have a patent on the right to sell popcorn topped off with a serving of imitation butter.  Actually almost anyone will dramatically increase popcorn profits once you sell popcorn "just like the movies" - topped off with the butter -  or imitation butter.  Always offer two sizes of "buttered" corn the 24 ounce cup and the 46 ounce cup are ideal.  (Have patience when you introduce popcorn "just like the movies" - sometimes it might take as long as 30 days to really get it rolling well.)
 
POPCORN PROMOTION
 
General:  Here we come to the smorgasbord of popcorn promotion ideas.  Some may apply to your circumstances - some are obviously not applicable.  Some may seem rather far out - but possible to at least test.  Remember, if you "plug it in and forget it", your customers may forget it, too.  Therefore, even though your profit percentage may be cut by a promotion, you do not spend percentages - you spend the money that is realized as "total gross profit margin dollars"  The important thing is to accelerate the momentum of sales from the first day you receive your machine (or open for the season) - keep it exciting - keep your long profit items on a pedestal, so to speak.  You can try some of these ideas.
 
Summary on coupons:  Surveys prove that more than 75% of all households in America are avid coupon redeemers.  Not just at the supermarket - but at the drug store - the auto parts warehouse, automobile service agencies - you name it, there's a coupon for it - except at snack bars and concession stands.  If there's a way you can pass out coupons at your "admission gate" or "ticket window" or as customers buy a given item with a coupon "tipped on", try it.  Use your imagination - coupons work.
 
OTHER PROMOTIONAL IDEAS:
 
Run a free popcorn weekend when you install a new popper - the Cone-O-Corn full has a total cost of about 5 cents.
 
Sometime run a "Dime Day" or 15 cents Day - "Let's roll back prices to the good old days"
 
Tie-ins on your menu board - a large popcorn with a large soft drink.   This "two for" can be a permanent part of your menu board - not just a "coupon special"
 
Buy one large drink - get a cone of cone for free.
 
If you have a chain operation, sponsor internal contests between units - stimulate friendly competition and enthusiasm among your employees.
 
Use your PA System, if you have one, to say, "The fun's not over when you are on the way home - take home a family size pack of our (fill in) perfectly popped gourmet popcorn!"  Or, "We are running a "TV football special tonight on our two gallon size regular $1.25 family pack of fresh popcorn - only 99 cents!"
 
Use the popcorn tree to display the carry-home polybag sizes.  Remember, poly keeps the corn crisp - popcorn boxes for take-home do not.
 
Community Involvement - Tie in your popcorn with various community happenings: parades, ecology programs, community events, anniversaries, pioneer days, school holidays.
 
Exit traffic pattern sales:  It's important to make it easy for them to buy the big size "as they leave" (whether it's a discount store, theatre, state lottery ticket outlet, etc.
 
Cash Register Tie-In - If your register can do it, run a "Star" on every 25th Sale - or let a bell ring on some sort of counting device, so that you give every 50th purchase for free.  Some people can mark containers.
 
Can you "sample" - in many areas, you cannot have an "open bowl" - but in a beverage carryout, for example, maybe you can use a 5 ounce paper cone shaped cup and give free samples - about a mouthful in a 5 ounce cone shaped cup - when they sample it, they'll buy a big bag.
 
15 Minute Special - the regular 40 cent cup of popcorn with butter for the next 15 minutes half price (or 25 cents)
 
Wear the Popcorn Paper Hats one day.
 
Have your personnel wear the "Everybody Loves Popcorn" button. See your dealer.
 
Container Redemption - A youngster brings 10 empty popcorn containers back to the refreshment stand and gets a free cone of corn.
 
Autumn Special - Cider and Popcorn as a tie-in during the period when Cider is cheap.
 
 
Planned Promotion - If you don't discipline yourself to plan a six month schedule, you will never really promote popcorn on a continuing basis.  So, lay your plan - markup a calendar - follow your plan.
 
Good report card - all A's and B's gets a youngster a free cone of popcorn.
 
Possibly give some "free cone of popcorn" coupons to the local pediatrician or pediatric dentist - for being "brave at the doctor's office" or "brave at the dentist's office"  It cost you a nickel, and gets customers to come in.
 
"Free Popcorn with every $4.00 purchase or more".  (this kind of "special" is a goodwill builder - doesn't cost much and seems like a 25 cent discount.)
 
Always include a popcorn popper in your "training store", so new franchisees and new Store Managers will learn how to properly maximize popcorn sales and profits.
 
Every 60 days, devote 10 to 20 minutes to "popcorn merchandising" at Supervisors Meetings.
 
Use the October is Popcorn Month logo.
 
Always display some Heap-O-Popcorn bags at your potato chip and pretzel display area - discontinue purchasing popped popcorn from your potato chip source.
 
Free cone of popcorn with every 8 gallons fill up of gas.  (Obviously, you use this idea only where you retail gasoline_
 
If you are near a school, always turn your popcorn machine "on" 15 minutes before the "school is out"  bell rings - or approximately 15 minutes before any other expected rush at noon or in the evening for example.
 
T.V. WATCHING SPECIAL:  Print up some 8" or 10" signs to put onto the doors of your upright beverage coolers, which say "TV watching" Special - Take home our regular 79 cent (or 89 cent) party size 30" Heap-O-Popcorn for only 47 cents. (You still more than double your money.)
 
An important tip on popping:  If your corn is not yellow enough, chances are likely your clerk is putting the oil bar into the kettle, and then waits until it melts before adding the corn.  The popping oil should be put in first and immediately followed with the cup containing the proper amount of popcorn and Flavacol Seasoning Salt.  This will make your conr a more buttery-like yellow, in appearance; it will sell better
 
To answer the question, "How do you keep your machine clean?"  Here are some ideas.
 
CC1.  Point out to the manager that his bonus depends on profits- and the more you can sell of a 77% gross profit item like popcorn, the more money it puts in his pocket.
 
CC2.  Authorize your supervisor to get a $2.50
CC3.  Have your cleaning cloth in a dandy position - teach your clerk to reach for the wiping cloth after you dump the final kettle of corn in a series of poppings, make sure the wiping cloth is folded to about 8 thickness" - simply wipe the front and rear lip of the kettle.  This can actually be done at virtually anytime prior to the next time you heat the kettle for a series of poppings..
 
CC4.  Prior to the close of business in the evening, instruct your clerk to fill up some of the 30" Heap-O-Bags,  completely empty the machine every night. The usual "excuse" for not cleaning the machine is in fact that there is still popped popcorn in it.  But empty the machine every night - there is no excuse for not cleaning it.  (Besides, the corn that you pack in poly will stay crisper- the corn you leave in the machine overnight will not stay crisp!)
 
A tip on the use of bags:  Many dealers are "willing" to sell you bags for popcorn - and we confess that we sell millions of bags annually.  This is a "creature of habit" - a throwback to antiquity.  A bag is cumbersome container in the personal, small size (see the recommended container sheet) - a bag is a two handed container - the bag is an open container and, therefore, is not really appropriate for a family take-home size.  Use a large family size popcorn box (which you can close up) when you sell approximately a 2 ounce size of corn for take-out - but for a 3 ounce to 8 ounce take-home "party size" sell your corn in poly bags to protect against moisture loss - to retain the crispness.
 
An important tip to crispness:  The infrared light in all Gold Medal Popcorn Poppers (as well as in all competitive machines) is totally incapable of penetrating deeply into even an "adequate" depth of popcorn on display.
 
Therefore, you must generate heat from the bottom via either a hot air blower/warmer system, (such as in our Deluxe Whiz Bang or Citation) - a second best method would be the strip heater which is standard in Pop-A-Lots, Whiz Bangs, Econo-Pops and Pinto Pops.
 
Approximately once a year and maybe October is a good time, because October is Popcorn Month, have your supervisor or your Store Mangers check the "deck" or "floor" of the popcorn machine to make certain the strip heater has not burned out or for some other reason is not functioning.  Serve crisp corn and you will sell more of it.
 
THE POPCORN INSTITUTE:  (An Association of Growers and Processors of Corn) They annually designate October as Popcorn Month.  Ask your popcorn supplier for new point-of-purchase signs for use during "Popcorn Month"
 
Do not downplay the "Popcorn Sales Contest" idea.  It works.  The owner of a chain of 15 stores told us that the "champ" in his popcorn contest increased popcorn sales to over $100.00 a week for a four week contest - the top prize was worth going after $500.00 to be split among all the employees of the winning store!  You do not mind giving them that kind of bounty when the total sales increase amounted to several thousand dollars during the contest - even after paying the prize, the net return was still several thousand dollars additional profit!  Try it - you will like it.
 
POPCORN POSTERS:  All popcorn supply distributors should have a liberal supply of popcorn posters - the people who sell you popcorn should be willing to furnish popcorn posters free of charge.  Be sure to use them - staple them together as "mobiles" - put them on the door - on the back bar - but do not cover up the popcorn in the machine with a poster. 
 
MENU BOARD PRESENTATION:  There are many different types of "popcorn transparencies"  available for menu boards - many show tie-ins with other snacks - the high quality transparency on a menu board certainly helps sell more popcorn, Coke, hot dogs or any other item. 
 
SUMMARY:  Promotions work - so, plan and schedule and execute your popcorn promotions.  Make sure Stand Managers or Store Managers are well informed about the profit in Popcorn and other Fun Foods.  Share the popcorn profit operation results with them - help them set higher goals - give them freedom to implement the programs that will help them achieve these goals! 
 
By actual count, there are not exactly 101 ideas in this article to help promote Popcorn and other Fun Foods.  But there are some good thought starters here which will enable you to trigger your own imagination and develop promotion and merchandising techniques that will work dramatically well.
 
Actually, you hardly need 100 ideas - one really good one might help you make literally thousands of dollars more Popcorn profit or Cotton Candy profit or Funnel Cake profit every year.  The "cost" of implementing an idea is usually quite small - usually it takes little more than time, training, and management attention.  The rewards are great.  But the cost of not implementing promotions is very, very expensive.  If you buy these ideas, or at least a few of them, and keep trying more and more of them - fine-tuning them for your own operation. you definitely will find out just how good popcorn profits and other Fun Food profits can be for your organization.
 
 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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