Theaters Reject ‘Yellowish Artificial Goop’ : Buttered Popcorn Makes a Comeback
True-blue moviegoers have been complaining about a one-dimensional experience ever since theaters began replacing buttered popcorn with artificial-butter-flavored popcorn.
“The whole film-going experience is popcorn and butter,” said Linda Friendly, senior vice president of marketing for Cineplex Odeon Corp., the second-largest theater chain in North America with 1,176 screens.
The Toronto-based theater chain recently took a giant step backward in technology and began serving real butter--not the yellowish artificial goop--on popcorn in all of its 395 theaters, including five in Los Angeles.
And, since real butter is seven times more expensive than its artificial counterpart, Cineplex is willing to eat the difference.
Expect Increased Sales
“We’re not raising the price because we expect that the volume increase in the purchase of buttered popcorn will compensate for that,” Friendly says.
Friendly said the switch was made after a marketing survey conducted throughout Canada showed that moviegoers had a particular disdain for artificial butter.
“We received a lot of complaints from customers and managers that customers wouldn’t eat popcorn with artificial topping,” Friendly said. “We did a survey, and of course it turned out as we expected.”
The survey also brought out several creative descriptions of artificial popcorn flavorings. Words such as “axle grease” and “melted Vasoline” were peppered throughout the responses.
Some customers said they would prefer to eat their popcorn dry rather than suffer through a bucket of artificially flavored popped kernels. Others said they had simply stopped buying popcorn.
“We’re putting on the better butter because we heard our customers and agreed with what they said. We believe our customers appreciate quality in our popcorn,” said Kristin Stultz, director of publicity and promotions for Plitt Theatres in Los Angeles.
Cineplex, which purchased the Plitt theater chain in November, 1985, has launched a major promotion campaign with radio and print advertisements touting: “But-but-butter’s back.”
‘Major, Serious Campaign’
“This is a major, serious campaign,” Friendly said. “We’re promoting butter like we would a major film.”
Garth Drabinsky, chairman of Cineplex, recalls the instant he decided to switch to real butter. The place: Vancouver, British Columbia. The year: 1983.
While touring several of his properties, Drabinsky happened upon the manager of one Cineplex theater who, for some reason, used real butter to flavor his popcorn.
“I hadn’t tasted such good popcorn in years,” Drabinsky recalled. “It was like floating. It was without question a much higher eating experience.”
The decision to use real butter in all Cineplex theaters was made on the spot and buttery popcorn soon began appearing in Canadian theaters.
Throughout the company’s theaters in the United States, Friendly estimates, 450,000 pounds of butter will be consumed this year.
Last year, the chain’s American theaters used 1.25 million pounds of raw popcorn seeds, she said.
Drabinsky said he anticipates better popcorn will bring better sales.
“We may have lost on our margins, but that’s more than offset by our sales,” he said.