As Movie Theaters Struggle, Farmers Are Running Out of Room for Unsold Popcorn

Lynda Sanchez, Unsplash
Lynda Sanchez, Unsplash / Lynda Sanchez, Unsplash

People started eating popcorn at the movies during the Great Depression, and the snack has been a staple of cinemas ever since. After decades of reliable sales, popcorn farmers are now faced with a conundrum: What to do with tons of surplus kernels as movie theaters across the country remain shuttered.

As Food & Wine reports, how people get their popcorn has changed drastically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the crisis, roughly 30 percent of all popcorn in the U.S. was consumed outside the home. The coronavirus lockdowns boosted sales of the microwave popcorn sold in grocery stores, while movie theater popcorn suddenly lost its main market.

Popcorn for cinemas and popcorn for the home don't come from the same suppliers. Movie theater popcorn farmers are used to selling their product directly to theaters, so they aren't equipped to provide the packaging necessary to get it into supermarkets. Preferred Popcorn is one of the largest movie theater popcorn growers, and it's reportedly installed seven new silos to store the surplus popcorn it has accumulated since the start of the pandemic. That's enough to fill about 80 million movie theater popcorn tubs.

Compared to some other crops, popcorn has a relatively long shelf life. Growers can hold onto their unsold kernels for about a year before the internal moisture necessary to make them pop dries out. Given the current state of the theater industry, the window may be too short. Though theaters in some parts of the country have started to reopen, attendance is still low.

One temporary solution is selling movie theater popcorn to consumers in bulk. Preferred Popcorn sell its kernels online in massive 30-pound and 50-pound bags. If you miss going out to the movies, buying enough popcorn to stock a concession stand may be a small consolation.

[h/t Food & Wine]