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Changing Things Up at the Sports Concession Stand

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Agata Kowalewska, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

My youngest child is playing soccer this fall for the first time, and we’re enjoying seeing him race around the field with his new teammates. His first game is this weekend, so we’re all excited. But yesterday, I got an urgent email in my inbox pleading for volunteers to work at the game concession stand—a message that made my heart sink a little, if I’m being completely honest.

The Old Standards: Not Too Healthy

Why so? Well, I’m pretty sure the stand will be selling typical high-calorie, low-nutrition treats like chips, candy, soda, and the like. I’m also pretty sure my kids will be begging to spend money there at his upcoming games. It’s a dilemma many sports parents are familiar with, especially if their children’s games run through the dinner hour or if they have a dedicated athlete who plays all year round.

Even if your child plays sports through a school team (my son does not), government school nutrition rules do not apply to athletic concession sales. This means that snacks and meals sold at games can be just about anything—and due to convenience and the perception that junk food sells, they’re most likely to be things like hot dogs, candy bars, and slushies. While okay as an occasional treat, these aren’t great options for families who attend these events all the time.

Can The Formula Be Changed?

However, clubs and teams who need to make money off these sales may be hesitant to change up their menus.  The results of a study involving a concession stand experiment conducted at a high school in Muscatine, Iowa may calm some of these fears. Researchers and booster club members looked carefully at sales, profit margins, and nutrition information regarding the items sold at their concession stand. They decided to make changes to two items (nachos and popcorn) by removing trans and saturated fats and to introduce a number of healthier menu options, such as carrots and dip, chicken sandwiches, pickles, apples, and pretzels, while leaving other old favorites intact. Students and parents were also polled about their satisfaction with the items.

Modest Success and No Downsides

While some new items (such as granola bars and trail mix) did not sell too well, others did, with purchases increasing as time went on. Overall, the healthier items made up about 9% of items sold in the year they were introduced. More importantly, revenue increased slightly and there were no complaints about the changes made to the popcorn and nachos. Students were just as satisfied with the food as they had been the year before, and parents were more satisfied. The main point of the article is that contrary to popular belief, healthy foods can be a desirable option at sporting events, at least for some consumers.

I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired by this simple experiment in beginning to transform the food environment at school sporting events. Although these new options may not be everything a nutrition-focused parent could dream of, we have to start somewhere. I’ll keep these findings in mind when I see what’s available at the soccer concession stand this weekend. Maybe it’s time for a change.

(Photo credit: Michigan Football on any Saturday by Missy Caulk. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

References:

Laroche,  H.H., et al. (2014). Concession stand makeovers: A pilot study of offering healthy foods at high school concession stands. Journal of Public Health, 1-9. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdu015

2 Comments on “Changing Things Up at the Sports Concession Stand

  1. Thanks for sharing this Carol. Those concession stands were always a concern for me, as a nutritionist and mom interested in healthy eating for my family. We almost never bought anything, which made me feel a bit guilty that I was not supporting the team, but I figured that our health was more important than a few dollars for the team. Not only do those foods provide more fat, sodium, and/or added sugars than most people need, they tend to fill you up so that you may not eat a healthy dinner after the game. Of course, that was the other annoying part of soccer games … the team always wanted to stop at McDonald’s after the game! Oh my …

    • And then there’s the snack provided to the kids after the game! (I can go for fruit and water, but that is not what tends to be provided) Fortunately, the stand turns out to be not that visible to the kids…they didn’t notice it, at least this first time.