Your Movie Night Snack Can Help Reduce Food Waste in America

Last Update: October 19, 2022

You always smell it before you see it—wafting from the concession stand, across the carpeted lobby and all the way out onto the street. That buttery, roasty aroma with a hint of salt can mean only one thing: you’re about to settle in for the latest blockbuster on the big screen, requisite giant tub of freshly popped popcorn in hand.

For many of the farmers across the United States who grow popcorn kernels, it’s more than a movie night must-have; it’s the backbone of their business. And now that you can stream the latest releases from your living room—a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic—that business has taken a hit. Fortunately, we’ve found a solution that supports growers, reduces food waste, and lets you replicate the full movie theater experience from the comfort of your couch.

The Perfect Pop

There’s a reason the popcorn you get at the movies is especially delicious: it’s unique to theaters, meaning you can’t buy it at your average grocery store. Many movie theater chains are partial to a variety of kernel called platinum butterfly popcorn because it pops up extra fluffy (with a winged shape, hence its name), filling those giant tubs of popcorn faster and making for extra craveable, can’t-eat-it-fast-enough crunch.

It’s hard to name a more iconic activity-and-snack duo than movies and popcorn, but though movie theaters have been around since the early 1900s, popcorn wasn’t introduced until the 1930s, when theaters started selling it to boost revenue during the Great Depression. Its affordability made it both popular with customers and favorable for theaters’ margins, and it stuck.

Movie theater chains pop a lot of popcorn, so they buy their kernels in bulk. They generally get it from large suppliers that source popcorn from farms across the Midwest, where fertile soil, warm temperatures, and generous rainfall make for ideal growing conditions.

Popcorn—and Popcorn Farmers—in Peril

One of the country’s largest suppliers of movie theater popcorn is a 100% farmer-owned, family-run business based in Nebraska. They sell more than half of their popcorn kernels to nationwide movie theater chains, meaning they’d never had a need for their own retail contracts, let alone resources for things like branding and packaging.

Then came mid-March, 2020. In response to climbing cases of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines that limited gatherings to 10 people or fewer, forcing the nation’s largest movie theater chains to shut their doors.

That Nebraska-based supplier? When movie theaters closed, they were left with 15,925,000 pounds of surplus popcorn kernels in their silos. That adds up to 80 million tubs of movie popcorn.

Thrive Market’s Food Waste Solution

Any business invested in creating a better food future wants to reduce food waste; it’s a $400 billion problem in the United States with significant implications for the environment. Wasted food is responsible for 24% of landfill inputs, 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, 14% of fresh water use, and 18% of cropland use in America, according to the nonprofit reFED—all of this, at a time when tens of millions of people are facing food insecurity and inequality.

So, what did the Thrive Market team do upon hearing about all those languishing kernels? Similarly to what anyone does when tempted by the siren song of movie popcorn…we bought some. Our partnership with that Nebraska-based supplier not only mitigates food waste, but helps set farmers up for success in 2021 and beyond.

“With movie theaters closed most of 2020 and still only operating in a small way much of 2021, it was imperative for these farmers to find a way to move the surplus of corn kernels created by the shutdown,” explains Jason Bidart, Senior Director of Merchandising for Thrive Market’s Food category. “The future of their farms also depended on moving this surplus to make room for future harvested crops.”

Our new, limited-edition Movie Theater Popcorn is the same fluffy platinum butterfly variety you’re used to getting at your local theater. It’s non-GMO and just as deliciously addictive as the stuff from the concession stand. Even better, when you pop a bowl at home, you can skip the highly processed liquid “butter” in favor of more wholesome toppings.

How to Make Your Own Popcorn Seasoning

For the perfect movie night in (that’ll leave the high cost of tickets and snacks in your pocket), top your DIY movie popcorn with a homemade seasoning blend.

These three easy recipes—one savory, one spicy, and one sweet—are made with high-quality pantry staples from Thrive Market. Mix them up, sprinkle to your heart’s content, and store any extras in a tightly sealed jar for future snacking.

Everything But the Pizza Popcorn Seasoning

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Oregano
2 tablespoons Thrive Market Organic Basil
1/2 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Garlic Powder
1 tablespoon Thrive Market Everything Bagel Spice Blend
1/4 cup crumbled bacon (optional)
Thrive Market Organic Ghee, melted

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle freshly popped popcorn with melted ghee, then sprinkle with seasoning blend and toss well to combine.

Spiced Curry Popcorn Seasoning

1/2 tablespoon Thrive Market Organic Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Ground Turmeric
1/8 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Ground Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Curry Powder
1/2 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Chili Powder
3 tablespoons Thrive Market Organic Sesame Seeds
2 teaspoons Thrive Market Organic Cane Sugar (or granulated sugar-free substitute of your choice)
2 teaspoons salt
Thrive Market Organic Ghee, melted

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle freshly popped popcorn with melted ghee, then sprinkle with seasoning blend and toss well to combine.

Rosemary-Lemon Glazed Donut Popcorn Seasoning

1 stick butter (or 8 tablespoons ghee)
8 tablespoons superfine sugar
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt, to taste

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk constantly until it darkens and smells toasty, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Once browned, add sugar to melted butter and whisk to combine.

Remove butter mixture from heat and pour over freshly popped popcorn. Sprinkle popcorn with lemon zest, rosemary, and salt. Toss well to combine.

Recipe credit: Becky Brown

Photo credit: Matthew Schulert

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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