Change is often met with anxiety, and in this case it was a question about whether a more nutritious food selection would impact profitability. Would healthier food sell, especially given how important the revenue is that is generated at the stands and the predominant age group that frequents them.
The research team, led by Dr. Helena Laroche of the internal medicine department at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, wanted to find out and the Muscatine community was game to help. “They were a fabulous group to work with; they really took to the idea,” she says.
Over the course of 18 months, the team evaluated existing food offerings, studied people’s resistance to healthy options, and tested and implemented more nutritious options.
Early on, a survey of students and adults showed that people were interested in healthier food in the concession area. Then side-by-side taste tests of popcorn popped in healthier oil and less calorie-laden nacho cheese sauce found that people could not taste the difference.
With this in mind, the group debuted a new menu at a boys’ basketball game, featuring such items as grilled chicken, baked pretzels, cheese sticks, cut fruit, big pickles and granola bars.
Success was not immediate. “People weren’t buying the healthier items at first because they didn’t know they were there,” Dr Laroche says. After posting large signs and doing a little strategic product placement, sales began to climb. “People had to see it,” she says, “then it took no time at all.”
The crowd ate it up—literally. Parents rushing to mid-week athletic events from work appreciated a healthier menu that could serve as a reasonable dinner replacement. “People appreciated having that choice,” says Kate Anderson, former Booster Club president, noting the grilled chicken breast and carrots with dip were steady sellers.
Even the football team got involved. A team photo showing the players eating healthy snacks was used in an in-school ad campaign. “The players loved it,” Dr Laroche says.
To maintain the level of revenue the schools rely on, the group working on the project became experts in vendor negotiations, pricing and packaging. “People like food that’s already cut up, like sliced fruit or bite-sized vegetables,” Dr. Laroche says. “We developed a relationship with the school food service to order smaller quantities without having to buy a minimum amount.”
“Our board had a passion for this,” said Anderson. “Some of the changes we made have stuck, but as board membership fluctuates, so can the menu at concession stands.”
What can groups do to develop healthier concession stand menus? Anderson suggests booster organizations create guidelines for concession menus, providing consistency from year to year.
With the first test complete, researchers developed templates, planning guides and a list of how-to’s for other districts interested in a concession stand makeover. And if you would like to work with the research team directly, Dr Laroche is currently looking for a site to conduct a second test. . Interested parties can contact her project manager, Jennifer K. Park-Mroch, Ph.D., Jenniferfirstname.lastname@example.org