It may be the smell of freshly popped buttery popcorn that brings a customer to a concession stand, but it will take more to keep them coming back.
Knowing the best types of food to serve at concession stands is vital to the success of the business, whether it’s at a theme park, a street corner or sporting event. Tried and true favorites like popcorn, nachos and cotton candy practically sell themselves, but it takes more to stand out from the crowded sea of concessionaires.
This $2 billion industry has its faithful standbys, but the industry is also responding to foodie trends with offerings not typically seen at concession stands. This may be an entirely new product or providing a twist for a traditional favorite. What are some ways to give a stand that pop?
Fusion-combining contrasting culinary traditions or techniques into one item
This is a hot trend across all food service venues, including concession stands. Think lobster corn dog, potato waffles and barbecue tacos. There’s also fusion that brings together sweet and savory like donuts topped with bacon and peanut butter cup topped barbecue (the BBQ Reese’s Sandwich at Kauffman Stadium, home to Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals).
“There are a lot of new foods that use all this stuff to make the primary thing then make it more interesting and look differently by putting it with another thing,” according to Rey O’Day, executive director of the National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA).
Fusion foods are so popular because they offer a culinary adventure and bring more excitement to mainstream food.
For the last few years, it seemed concessionaires were competing for the wackiest thing they could put on a stick. The newest trend is moving from the skewer to packaging that you can eat like waffle cones and tortilla cones, O’Day told Carnivalwarehouse.com.
Take the traditional French fries or popcorn and top with the untraditional seasonings – dill pickle, bubblegum, cotton candy or chocolate.
“There used to be one kind of food, like French fries. Now we have 20 different kinds of French fries,” O’Day said in the interview.
In Ohio, hot dogs loaded with creative toppings are taking off with toppings such as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and bacon. Offerings at the Indiana State Fair this year included Pickle Pizza—dill ranch sauced topped with mozzarella cheese, dill seasoning and dill pickles.
The Texas State Fair has combined pickles and hot dogs for the Crispy Dilly Dog—a dill pickle stuffed with a hot dog that’s battered in corn dog mix and fried.
Not all concession stand patrons want fried foods or items drenched in salt and cheese. Grab and go items, prepared offsite, are an easy way to offer healthy options. This could include fruit cups, roasted nuts, sliced vegetables with hummus, applesauce, popcorn, trail mix and more.
Consumers are exploring new flavors and spicy foods have consistently performing well the last several years. Sriracha took the world by storm a few years ago and the demand for spicy options has stayed. A recent survey by Kalsec, an ingredient company, found that 80% of US consumers ages 18 or older now enjoy hot and spicy foods. Over half said they eat spicy foods at least once a week. Wasabi looks to be the next spicy star as demand for Japanese cuisine increases. Widely available in powder form, it can be added to everything from popcorn to ice cream and cookies.
Hot honey as a condiment continues to gain steam as consumers crave a mix of spicy and sweet. It’s being added to chicken, pizza, burgers and more. Heinz just launched a honey infused with hot chili.
Consumers expect to see the concession stand favorites like popcorn, nachos and hot dogs, so it’s a good idea to keep those items on the menu. But it’s also a good idea to experiment with some new flavors and twists on the classics to keep them coming back for more.
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