Popcorn Sales Boom Showcases China Film Industry Growth

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Unlike in North America, where concessions account for as much as 75 percent of cinema profits, China's theaters have banked mostly on box office -– but that's changing as the Chinese develop a taste for the classic movie snack.

In yet another sign of the booming growth of China's film and entertainment sector, popcorn sales surged at the country's largest cinema chain last year.

According to figures released by Wanda Cinema Line Corp., the theater circuit sold $63 million (390 million yuan) worth of popcorn last year, which accounted for 72 percent of the company's overall concession sales and 9.5 percent of its $658.7 million (4.1 billion yuan) in total revenues for 2013.

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"China's film industry is still learning from the Hollywood model, whether in producing high-quality movies or in the way it makes money," Huang Qunfei, general manager of the Beijing New Film Association, a Beijing cinema chain, told state news source Xinhua.

While North American movie theater chains are often estimated to make as much as 70 to 85 percent of their profits from concessions sales, China's nascent cinema sector still generates most of its income from the shared revenue of ticket sales. An increase in quality snack offerings and the growth in overall concessions sales in Chinese cinemas is just another sign of development in the country's rapidly expanding movie sector, local industry figures say.

Zhao Minran, a manager of a Wanda cinema in the eastern Chinese city of Zhenjiang told Xinhua that the theater sold 150 percent the amount of popcorn it expected to sell in February, due to a huge influx of cinemagoers during the Spring Festival holiday, when an estimated 30 percent of viewers bought the snack.

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The manager added that the cinema is considering offering a new flavor of popcorn other than plain and caramel. She noted that caramel is the most popular flavor among Chinese customers.

Wanda is by far the largest movie theater chain in China. As of late 2013, the company was running 142 cinemas with 1,247 screens, including 89 Imax screens. On Friday, the company announced a deal to install another 780 sets of RealD 3D equipment in its theaters across the country over the next three years.

The number of movie theaters in China has exploded over the past decade. According to Beijing-based film industry research company Entgroup, there were just 3,000 movie screens in operation in China in 2007 -- today there are more than 18,000.

China is now the world's second largest movie market and the local box office total is expected to grow to $4.6 billion this year. In February alone, their box office reached $520 million, about the same as the country's full year total as recently as 2007.