April 8, 2011 -- The next new hit at movie theatres may not be a blockbuster film or some new special effect. If health professionals have anything to do with it, it will be a healthy snack option at concession stands.
AMC Theatres, one of the largest theatre chains in the U.S., has announced that customers can buy nutritious snack packs -- called AMC Smart MovieSnacks -- that contain fruit chips, a bottle of water, trail mix and popped corn chips. The snack packs are available at all of AMC's U.S. theatres and cost $7.00, a value compared to the cost of popcorn and a soda, which can cost about $10 or more.
"At AMC, we are all about giving our guests choices – in the type and format of entertainment they watch and the food and beverages they consume," George Patterson, senior vice president of food and beverage at AMC, said in a press release. "We know there are occasions – and dietary reasons – when guests want more options beyond traditional concession fare."
The snack packs have a lot more nutritional value as well. A 2009 study by the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest found that a medium popcorn and soda have about 1,600 calories and 60 grams of fat, equivalent to six scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, four strips of bacon and four sausage links. The new snack bundle has about 450 calories and 10 grams of fat.
Nutrition experts call the healthier options "a step in the right direction."
"It shows that people want healthier, more nutritious food if you ask them," said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Management Program at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York.
Others wonder why just focus on movie snacks.
"One of the problems is we eat constantly: walking down the street, at the office, watching TV, driving in the car, etc.," said Dr. Jana Klauer, a nutrition expert in private practice in New York. "Plus, most people go out for dinner after the movies, so I think the best idea is to eliminate the movie eating."
Michael Lynton, president and chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, praised AMC for its new snack options.
"I applaud AMC for making healthier snacks available for theatergoers at concession stands around the country. I believe this will be good for business and for public health," Lynton said in a press release.
It was Lynton who initially called upon theatre owners at last year's ShoWest, a convention for the motion picture industry, to offer healthier food options in addition to the usual snacks.
Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theatre chain in the U.S., started offering 100-calorie packs of popcorn, a diet soda and a pedometer as a promotional combination in New York and California last year.
"Regal Entertainment Group is constantly looking to expand our menu choices with items that will be popular with our moviegoers. We believe that offering health-conscious patrons an option to enjoy movie theatre popcorn in a smaller serving with a high quality zero-calorie soft drink is a winning combination," president and chief operating officer Greg Dunn said in a press release.
Theatres Not Required to Post Calorie Counts
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week determined that movie theatres and other establishments that sell food -- but not as their primary function -- are exempt from regulations mandating that calorie counts be posted on menus and menu boards.
The health care reform law requires the information in many food establishments. The National Association of Theatre Owners had argued the movies should be exempt because the primary purpose of theatres is entertainment.
Nutrition experts, however, say calorie counts as well as fat content should be prominently posted at all concession stands to make people aware of what they are consuming.
"Most theater chains use coconut oil for popping, which is 90 percent saturated," said Klauer. "The AHA [American Heart Association] recommends that saturated fat be kept to 10 percent of the total calories. Medium-size popcorn contains more saturated fat and calories than a Big Mac, and that is without the buttery topping."