Banking on popcorn for survival


The coronavirus currently prevents films from being shown on the big screen. Some cinemas still offer their popcorn and will deliver it to customers' homes. Photo: Thomas Frey/dpa

The best part of going to the movies for many film fans is getting a huge tub of fresh popcorn.

But with movie theatres closed in many parts of the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been left without their favourite film snack – unless they make it themselves, which, honestly, is just not the same as from the theatre.

Some cinemas in Germany are looking to help people scratch that itch, and scrape together a little money on the side, with a creative concept: Bringing the popcorn to their old audience.

Which brings us to Yannic Koch, who’s riding an e-bike through the city of Koblenz at night to bring fresh popcorn from the Odeon Apollo Cinema to his first customer of the evening.

Miram opens her door as Koch arrives and is visibly excited. “You get a bit of that theatre feeling at home, ” she says.

Yannic Koch rides an e-bike through the city of Koblenz at night to bring fresh popcorn from the Odeon Apollo Cinema to his customers.Yannic Koch rides an e-bike through the city of Koblenz at night to bring fresh popcorn from the Odeon Apollo Cinema to his customers.

For many people, it’s a small comfort while they’re stuck at home, watching movies on TV or through a streaming service. For the theatres, it’s an emergency offering: “You can’t really make the big money this way, ” says Odeon Apollo boss Christian Klein. The goal is that “the theatre stays in people’s heads”.

For anyone worried that there’s a contradiction between enjoying popcorn from a local cinema while watching the competition – i.e. Netflix – Ralf Holl, director of a cinema operators association in Germany, waves these concerns away. “The pool of cinema-goers and Netflix customers overlaps, ” he says. Cinemas these days have to accept streaming services. But popcorn is a way to bring these movie fans back in movie theatre chairs. It’s a special community experience, says Holl, who also runs a medium-size cinema in Germany.

Holl isn’t doing delivery – in the small town where his cinema is located, it isn’t worth it – but he is selling nachos, a common movie theatre snack in Germany, and popcorn at “normal, classic prices”, while also throwing in a free chocolate bar, for example, for guests.

The Bali cinema in another town, Alzey, says that it sells about 200 buckets of popcorn in a weekend. “I’m friends with the renter of a petrol station. He had to stop selling sausages due to the coronavirus, so in their place, we’ve now placed the popcorn, ” says cinema owner Claus Hadenfeldt. It’s a signal: “We’re not dead, yay, we’re still alive as a theatre.” The popcorn is made in-house and tastes better than the popcorn usually sold in German supermarkets.

At the Odeon Apollo Cinema in Koblenz, the billboard shines through the darkness, which comes early in the winter months, advertising popcorn. Customers are able to order and pay online, and the delivery service simply places the popcorn outside their door – contact-free.

“Please refrain from tipping us, ” reads the cinema’s website, “as this is the only way that we can guarantee contactless delivery.”

Koch says that the delivery service is also nice for employees because it allows them to work again “and not have to sit at home all the time.” Delivery costs aren’t extravagant – ¤2 extra (RM9.90) – and it’s free for anyone who spends over ¤20 (RM98.60).

But as enjoyable as popcorn is at home, there remains the question of what will happen to movie theatres long-term? Will they make it through the pandemic? Many operators in Germany are starting to fear the worst, even though they are receiving coronavirus financial help.

The lack of predictability is devastating. For example, film distributors need a certain amount of lead time for new films.

When cinemas reopen later than expected, then the current films might be missing. That’s not to mention the difficulty of winning over the next generation, raised on Netflix and Spotify, in the first place.

Betty is a young woman in Koblenz who’s decided to seek out popcorn. Wearing a mask, she comes to the theatre herself to pick up the treat: “Sometimes you just really have a craving for real popcorn.”

She finds it “super great” that the otherwise closed Odeon Apollo Cinema opens for a few hours a week to sell it. There’s hope yet. – dpa/Jens Albes and Thomas Frey

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Pandemic , cinemas , popcorn , e-delivery service


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