Concession stands could help better-for-you snacks reach young consumers

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags: Snack foods

Often dominated by candy, soft pretzels, nachos and highly processed meats, concession stands at school events could be fertile ground for better-for-you snack and beverage manufacturers to boost sales and exposure to young consumers who are developing eating patterns and taste preferences for life, new research suggest. 

A study published in the Journal of School Health​ conducted by researchers from the University of Iowa and Cornell University found the vast majority of students at a high school bought healthier foods at least sometimes when they were available at concession stands during school sporting events. 

Even better news for the fundraisers was the discovery that revenue also increased when a variety of healthy items were made available alongside indulgent ones, according to the study.

Specifically, the researchers found overall sales went up 4% when the president of a booster organization at a large high school added healthier items to the menu at a concession stand for events.

In the study, the stand added eight new healthy items, which complied with USDA’s Smart Snacks guidelines. These accounted for about 9% of the concession stand sales.

While the sales data should be a compelling factor on its own for manufacturers and menu planners of healthy snacks, the researchers wanted to know how students felt about having healthier options.

A follow-up survey of 314 students found both those who did and did not value having healthier options were equally likely to buy the better-for-you options when available.

Among those students who actively wanted healthier options, like granola bars and carrots with dip, 79% reported buying at least one such item. This is only slightly higher than the 76% who did not believe healthy choices were important but who purchased them at least once when they were available.

Price sensitivity hampers healthy sales

While the overall sales at the concession stand increased with the wider variety of options, the study found some price sensitivity around the healthier choices.

For example, the researchers found when granola bars sold for the same price as the candy bars, they did not sell as well. But lowering the prices would have made the margins too low.

Alternatively, the researchers suggest raising the price of the candy bars to create the same price differentiation as an incentive for selecting the healthier options.

Other strategies for selling healthier items found by the researchers include touting increased variety rather than “healthy choices,”​ which some students might equate to less tasty.

With these factors in mind, the main takeaway for better-for-you snack makers is that concession stands could be a viable “market among students for healthier options, even if they may not outsell some unhealthy alternatives,”​ the study concludes. 

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