Two New Ways Retailers Make Money From Food Equipment

Even kids love the salty-sweet taste of kettle corn.

Can’t afford to install a café in your garden center? Two garden retailers reveal the details on the successful, high-return snack machines that allow them to offer customers tasty treats without breaking the bank.

Boulevard Flower Gardens Finds Popcorn Pays

When Owner Mark Landa first purchased a kettle corn machine in October 2011, he had no idea it would be such a hit.

“We purchased the machine mainly as an addition to our pick-your-own pumpkin operation,” Landa says. “Generally kettle corn, fairs and outdoor activities go together. I wanted something that would be another attraction and moneymaker for the event. It was a big success.”

While the machine set Landa back $2,500, it paid for itself in the first month. After the fall festivities, the kettle corn machine was retired until spring. The retailer decided to set the machine out front during the busy season to gauge the response during high-traffic times.

“We had a tremendous response,” Landa says. “We ended up continuing to pop every weekend during the spring. Due to the response, we started popping a little extra — it has about a two week shelf life — and people would come in during the week to pick it up. It was a way to get people back in the store.”

Once the summer hit, the staff cut back on using the kettle corn machine regularly. People began asking for the sweet-and-salty treat again in September, and by October, sales skyrocketed. Some weekend days, Landa says the garden center raked in $1,500 in popcorn sales alone. In December, customers were able to pre-order and pick up bags to give as gifts.

The Price Of Popcorn

“After you get through the cost of the machine, the profit margin is high,” Landa says. “Your ingredients don’t cost much.”

The approximate cost per batch breakdown is:

  • Mushroom popcorn (it pops round instead of flat to avoid catching the oil, and the machine holds 1.5 pounds): $1 per batch; $35 for a 50-pound bag
  • Ladle of corn oil: $0.60
  • Sugar (small amount, not enough to make it caramel corn): $0.40
  • Salt (small amount after finished): $0.10
  • Bags: a few cents when purchased in bulk

Batches yield approximately five medium sized bags sold for $5 each. For a little more than $2, Landa brings in $25. Small bags sell for $3, and large bags cost $7. Landa says he sells mostly medium and large bags.

Due to the overwhelming response, Boulevard Flower Gardens purchased a sealing machine in October 2012 to extend shelf life and streamline the bagging process. In most circumstances, three people will work the kettle corn booth. One person cooks, another bags and the third collects money. And when traffic is high, Landa has found it is well worth it to designate someone to sample the goods.

“We found the best way to do this was to go to the dollar store and purchase little containers with flip off lids. You have a girl walking around with the kettle corn, and people hold out their hands and sample it,” Landa says. “That’s all it takes. It’s addicting. The smell is incredible, and that’s what does it for people. But a lot of people won’t go and try it on their own.”

Health Regulations

When it comes to appeasing the health department, the regulations are fairly lax compared to other in-store food operations. Landa researched what he would need to do and came up with an easy solution.

“We actually built an outdoor pavilion where we sell all of our popcorn. It’s a little area with a tin roof and concrete floor,” Landa says. “We built two sides and put a table in front of it. That sufficed for the health department because all they wanted was a shelter with sides — not a whole wall but 3-foot sides — so things won’t blow into the pot. People can still see over it, but it keeps them safe at the same time. They can gather around the edges and watch. They are just fascinated with it.

“If you are going to go to an event, you need to have a little pop-up tent with three sides around it to keep trash from blowing in. You don’t need anything fancy.”

Although Landa only uses the machine at Boulevard Flower Gardens events, some retailers are making additional money by renting out the equipment.

“We have had a lot of people ask, ‘Would you rent that to me for an event?’ I probably would, if it wasn’t conflicting with my time,” Landa says. “The people that rent them out, depending on the event and time, are getting anywhere from $100 to $200 a day to rent them. There is good money in renting them out, and there is not much that someone could do to hurt himself from a safety standpoint, as long as he knew what he was doing. There is not much you could do to the machine. It is very durable.”

Rhoads Farm Market & Garden Center Uses Local Ingredients For Fresh Slushies

Owner Carly Neff explains how the retailer entices thirsty customers with its delicious beverages:

“We have a slushy machine. I believe we paid about $1,800 for the machine. It is most popular in the fall season when we have fresh, local apple cider to ‘slush.’ We have two local orchards within 20 minutes of us, so we buy it fresh in gallons for $4.25 each. We average about $32 when we sell the cider in slushed form.

“We also have flavored slushies in the spring for our guests. They retail for $2 to $3 in our retail store and for $3 to $4 each when it goes to our local Pumpkin Show. We sell about $1,000 worth of slushies in the spring and about double that in the fall season in our retail store. We rented out the machine for $5,000 one time, but it is really too heavy to move around too much. The thing that makes selling these slushies successful, though, is the fresh, local apple cider. That is what makes it unique.”

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