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Concession Stand Makeovers: A Pilot Study of Offering Healthy Foods at High School Concession Stands

Laroche, Helena, Christopher Ford, Katie Hanson, Xueya Cai, David Just, Andrew Hanks, and Brian Wansink (2014). Concession Stand Makeovers: A Pilot Study of Offering Healthy Foods at High School Concession Stands. Journal of Public Healthdoi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdu015

Concession stands remain an important aspect of professional, college, and especially high school sporting events. Many are student or parent run, with the goal of raising money for school organizations and teams. Unlike school lunchrooms, which must meet USDA regulations, high school concession stands remain mostly exempt from government health intervention, which many groups fear would decrease concession stand sales and customer satisfaction. The overall goal of this study was to explore if this fear is warranted.

The research was conducted over two fall sports seasons at Muscatine High School in Muscatine, Iowa. Baseline sales, total revenue, and inventory data were collected during the Fall 2008  sports season. At the end of the season, concession stand satisfaction surveys utilizing a 9 point Likert scale were administered through e-mail to a random sample of parents, and through a convenience sample of students during lunch periods. Meanwhile, researchers worked with Booster club members—parent volunteers—to review the nutritional value of concession stand items (i.e., suckers, hot dogs, candy bars, pork sandwiches, pizza, nachos, and popcorn) and compare them to USDA competitive food guidelines. Ultimately, the Booster club members decided to eliminate trans fats and add more healthy options such as string cheese, apples, carrots with dip, granola bars, etc., for the Fall 2009 season. The ingredients of popular items, nachos and popcorn, were modified as well, by reducing the amount of saturated and trans fats.

Parallel sales and customer satisfaction data were collected during and after the Fall 2009 season when the healthier concessions were available.  Sales results showed that the newly introduced chicken sandwich made up nearly 5% of all revenue and soft pretzels were a close second (2.6%), while the aggregated total of the other additional items (apples, carrots with dip, granola bars, pickles, string cheese, and trail mix) amounted to 1.7% of total revenue. Overall, the newer, healthier items comprised 9.2% of total revenue. It should be noted that throughout the season, increased interest in the new food items came alongside greater customer awareness. When looking at customer satisfaction after the second season, students showed no change in overall satisfaction (P = 0.99) but were satisfied with the healthy foods offered (P=.049), while parents were more satisfied overall (P = .005).

Ultimately, this study demonstrates the potential for successful improvements to the healthfulness of concession stand options without decreasing sales or customer satisfaction. We recommend maintaining the original concession stand menu while adding 5-10 new healthy items and replacing unhealthy ingredients in popular options with healthier ingredients. These findings have the potential to extend to other non-sporting event concession stands, and should continue to be explored so that patrons can not only enjoy the food offerings, but also feel good about eating them.