With Movie Theaters Shuttered, Popcorn Farmers Find Themselves Sitting on Mountains of Kernels

Did you know that 30% of all popcorn in the United States is consumed at movie theaters?

Popcorn Kernels
Photo: gmevi/Getty Images

While microwave popcorn brands have seen sales surge amid the coronavirus pandemic, the other side of the popcorn industry—the farmers who provide the snack to movie theaters and events—is in tough shape.

According to The Washington Post, 30% of all popcorn in the United States is consumed at movie theaters and other events. With countless movie theaters closed and most public gatherings prohibited due to the pandemic, popcorn farmers throughout the country have found themselves with mountains of kernels and nobody to buy them.

You might wonder why movie theater suppliers don't just switch to the microwave popcorn business. It turns out that it's not that easy. These farms have neither machinery for microwave retail packaging, nor the necessary contracts with major grocery stores. Plus, the variety of popcorn hawked at movie theaters, known as "butterfly" popcorn because of its large fluffy flakes, usually isn't sold in stores.

So, farmers wait and hope for the best.

Come harvest time, Preferred Popcorn, one of the country's largest suppliers of movie theater popcorn, could be to be sitting on as much as 15,925,000 pounds of popcorn kernels, the Post reports. That's the equivalent of 80 million tubs of popcorn.

And the clock is ticking. What makes popcorn pop is an internal moisture level of 13.5%. The kernels will last about a year until they're too dry.

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But it's not all bad news! According to the Post, Misfits Market, a produce subscription service that delivers "ugly" food, has purchased 40,000 pounds of kernels from Preferred Popcorn.

"We work with Preferred to repack the giant bags into 28-ounce household bags, branded with Preferred Popcorn as a way to get recognized by consumers," explained Misfits Market founder Abhi Ramesh, adding that he anticipates it will be many months before movie popcorn sales resume to their normal numbers.

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