Looking for concession stand food ideas with high profitability? Each of the menu items on this list is designed to generate between 50% – 70% profit after food cost and labor. This margin is a welcome change for many restaurant industry veterans that might be accustomed to generating 33% profit (or less) per item.
With a bit of creativity, you don’t need to rely on the ideas like kettle corn either (although this approach continues to work well). There’s plenty of tired fair and carnival food out there that can be updated and refreshed to appeal to the new-age consumer. My goal with this piece is to give you some creative ideas that you can use in your business right now to improve your bottom line.
Table of Contents
- High-Margin Ingredients
- High-Profit Concession Stand Food Ideas
- How to Come up with Creative Concession Menu
The best concession stand ideas aren’t a secret. They’re right in front of you at every fair or sporting event attend if you’re paying attention. The staple ingredients that make winning concession stand items must be both appealing to the public and cheap to purchase in bulk.
Here are the staple items that make up the most profitable concession stand menus. You can get creative with any of the following core ingredients to develop a product with a 50% or higher profit margin:
- Ice cream
- Shaved ice
- Corn dogs
If you’ve been in the industry awhile, you could have probably guessed these ingredients on your own. Each of the staples can be purchased in bulk for low prices. From a labor and food prep standpoint these ingredients are low effort items to make. Finally, each of the core ingredients above have a relatively long shelf life. This adds up to less food waste and more profit.
Now that you know the ingredients that make up high-margin food products only your imagination is the limit the new items you can come up with.
High-Profit Concession Stand Food Ideas
Estimated Cost: 5o lb bag can be purchased $35 – $40
Retail Price: $7.00 for a bag of kettle corn or popcorn (depending on size).
How to make it work: Popping corn is a timeless concession item with incredible flavor flexibility. By volume, popcorn is the most popular snack food in the United States. You can store popcorn safely for months in a dry environment and it’s a low risk food item making it ideal for concessions.
Some of the common flavors you’ve tried include butter popcorn, toffee, and caramel corn. But you can get a lot more creative with flavor combinations with popcorn to create something exciting for guests. Some ideas include rosemary parmesan, olive oil and garlic, taco, BBQ, and chocolate covered kernels. Learn more about what it’s like to operate a kettle corn business here.
Estimated Cost: 8 lb Pre-made Cookie Dough Batter for $20 – $35.
Estimated Retail Price: $1 per cookie or up to $20 for a bucket.
How to make it work: Offering fresh baked cookies to consumers will always be a winner. You can order high-quality cookie batter from any restaurant supply company so all you need to do is bake the product and serve.
Popular ready-made flavors include chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar cookies. You can doctor these recipes to make them your own by ordering plain cookie dough and adding ingredients. Some options include added Reese’s pieces, M&Ms, nuts, and other flavors commonly found in baked goods.
Estimated Cost: $28 – $100 per pound.
Estimated Retail Price: $2 – $6 per unit depending on size.
How to make it work: One pound of tea leaves yields 200 (6 oz) cups. Even if you invest in higher-price teas there’s plenty of room for profit. According to reports, millennials (people born from 1981 – 1996) are drinking more unique flavors of tea, especially iced teas. There’s still increased consumption of the drink in the western world with tea sales doubling in recent years in Canada.
You only need to look as far as Starbucks to see that iced tea’s and fusion drinks are becoming more popular, especially in the afternoon when coffee is not enjoyed as often. Custom flavor ideas for your concession include strawberry basil iced tea, ginger detox, peach, or a mint lime tea cooler. You can find all sorts of recipes for these free online.
Estimated Cost: $6.00 – $8.00 per pound
Estimated Retail Price: $3.00 – $5.00 per cup depending on size.
How to make it work: The beverage widely consider to be for adults in the past has much broader appeal today in the United States thanks to numerous flavor and beverage innovations. If you invest in the equipment to serve iced coffee or cold brew, it can quickly pay dividends in sales. While there is equipment cost and training time that needs to be figured in when selling these drinks, the payoff can be worth it for many vendors.
Related Reading: How to Start a Coffee Shop on Your Own Terms
Corn on the Cob
Estimated Cost: $0.25 per ear (depends on season)
Estimated Retail Price: $3 – $5 per ear depending on toppings.
How to make it work: If you live in the midwest, you probably think of fresh picked corn on the cob in the fall months. Dip the corn in butter, salt and pepper and you’ve got a delicious snack.
But you can also adapt the product to make Mexican-style street corn covered in mayo, cotija cheese, chili powder and a splash of lime too. There are all sorts of flavor combinations that can be added if you want to get creative by adding other latin spices. Italian seasoning also pairs well with corn in my humble opinion.
Hot Dogs and Corn Dogs
Estimated Cost: Hot dogs and Corn dogs for $0.35 – $.50 cents each depending on ingredients.
Estimated Retail Price: $3.00 – $6.00 depending on ingredients.
How to make it work: Hot dogs and corn dogs are a staple menu item across concessions stand in America. They are easy to make, cheap to buy, and enjoyed by guests. What’s not to love? Best of all these products are extremely flexible adding toppings. You can add nacho cheese, grilled onions, chili, and other toppings to differentiate your product. Plant-based hot dogs are also readily available and can be used to market to vegetarian eaters. Getting innovative with dipping sauces is another easy way to stand out in this segment (think chipotle mayo). Learn more about starting a hot dog business here.
Deep Fried pickles.
Estimated Cost: $2.50 or less per pound after being breaded.
Estimated Retail Price: $5.00 – $8.00
How to make it work: Deep fried pickles have become are a mainstay item at fairs and restaurants a like. Most vendors bread, deep fry, and serve on a paper tray. You can further differentiate this product with dips like garlic mayo, spicy cheese sauce, sour cream and onion, and just about anything else you can dream up. To further differentiate the product you can make the pickles with creative spices to make a sweet or sour flavored pickle.
Estimated Cost: $.50 – $2.50 depending on toppings.
Estimated Retail Price: $3.00 – $8.00 depending on style.
How to make it work: Fried bread in all forms is a high-profit menu item. Fried bread has different variations by region including Native American Fry Bread. Similar variations of the food go by the name elephant ears. This core item can be used to create desserts or meals. Cinnamon and sugar is a popular menu item for desserts while you can make dozens of different fried bread taco to eat as a meal. This is a great add-on to a concession business especially if you already use deep fryers.
Estimated Cost: .50 cents or less per pound.
Estimated Retail Price: $5.00 – $10.00 depending on style and size.
How to make it work: Potatoes can be purchased cheap and stored for a few weeks without going bad. Like the other foods on our list they are easy to cook and assemble for guests too. The sky is the limit on what you can do with this product. Here are a few ideas: Create nacho fries, serve amped-up baked potatoes, ribbon fries, create a variety of dipping sauces, offer poutine, cook seasoned tater tots, make potato latkes during the Hanukkah celebration.
Estimated Cost: $0.25 cents or less per cup.
Estimated Retail Price: $3.00 – $7.00 depending on style and size.
How to make it work: This is a product you’ve no doubt seen at sporting events, parades and farmer’s markets. But there are plenty of ways to standout from the crowd by adapting this product. First off, many suppliers now offer syrups with vitamins and organic ingredients. This is an easy way to appeal to the health-minded mom or dad wielding the family credit card. Another way to enhance this product is by pairing it with fruit, condensed milk, or whip cream. You can learn more about the operations and profitability of the shaved ice business model here.
Estimated Cost: $0.50 cents or less per churro.
Estimated Retail Price: $2.00 – $6.00 depending on style and size.
How to make it work: This traditional Spanish food has gone mainstream over the past 5 years. The snack giant J&J Snack Foods reported selling over $68 million in churros alone in 2018 inside their annual report. While churros traditionally use a cinnamon and sugar flavor there are new seasonal flavors increasing awareness for the product like Oreo, pumpkin spice, and egg nog. This is an extremely popular snack at DisneyLand resorts where there is an ever changing menu of churro options. The theme park now charges over $5.00 per churro.
Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt
Estimated Cost: $0.75 – $1.50 per unit
Estimated Retail Price: $5.00 – $9.00 depending on size and toppings
How to make it work: Eating at a Frozen yogurt shop has become an Instagram worthy event. Serving ice cream and frozen yogurt has always had a low food cost, but unless you make the product both visually appealing and unique it’s going to be tough to differentiate your product from everyone to make a big profit.
You can still get generate extra sales by adding an ice cream machine offering twist cones, but if you’re attempting to get a big winner that generates excitement and social media shares you’ll need a more original product. Some winning ideas include gourmet ice cream pops, paletas, or offering non-diary soft-serve options. Learn more about the trends in the frozen dessert segment in this podcast.
How to Come up with Creative Concession Ideas
You don’t need to be a “creative” type to develop a unique concession menu. Here are some approaches to ensuring you always have an exciting concession menu. Follow this approach and you’ll never run of profitable ideas.
- Travel and Pay Attention: Visiting your state fair is a terrific way to discover new concession options. Pay attention to the new foods that attendees can’t seem to get enough of. Innovative foods like this are the ideal to bring back to your market. I discovered the “cronut” by attending the Minnesota State Fair just a few years ago. You had to wait in a line for 20 minutes at least the first year the cronut was first released into the world. This is the sign of a product you can take back to your own concession business.
- Pinterest and Food Bloggers: There are literally tens of thousands of talented food bloggers out there that develop and publish information on how to make exciting new recipes every day. Search online or by using Pinterest to find creative spins on ideas you’ve already been using in your business. Sometimes little tweaks like adding an exciting seasonal flavor to your popcorn stand (Pumpkin Spice Popcorn anyone?) is all you need to refresh the product and improve sales.
- New Flavors or Food Combinations: Be on the look out for exciting new flavors to infuse with your menu. Often these modern twists on old ideas come outside the United States. Much of the flavor innovation in ice cream for example comes from parts of Asia or Italy. Eventually these trends make way state side. Stay on the look out for ways to pair your foods together in creatively. The ice cream cookie sandwich is one such example of two concession foods being brought together to create a new item.
Don’t stop with the examples listed above. You could create a new delivery method for your food. One proven way to deliver almost any kind of food is on a stick. Try hot dish on a stick, fried pickles on a stick.
Another option is adding a unique characteristic to food, like locally grown, low calorie, or organic. You can always find ways to invigorate your menu using these approaches.
What questions do you have about making a high-profit concession menu? I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.