The end of pick ‘n’ mix at the cinema?

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Cinemas are changing before our eyes, and whilst it’s not the world’s biggest priority, we’ve got a few thoughts on the pick ‘n’ mix counter.

Appreciating in the midst of a global pandemic there are graver concerns, the job of Film Stories is to nonetheless reflect a mix of important matters in the film world. And as cinemas began cautiously reopening their doors – before now having to shut them again – it was impressive to see how the bulk of sites in the UK have navigated these taxing new times.

Certainly from my experience, my local multiplex had cleaning stations at regular points on its premises, had spaced screenings out, and is one of the chains whose online booking system actively enforces social distancing, in front and behind as well as to either side of your chosen seat.


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Furthermore, much was made in the build-up to the reopening of cinemas as to how they’d cope with the all-important concessions stand, the financial backbone of most cinemas. After all, seeing a member of staff fill a branded cardboard bucket by scraping it through a sizeable glass case of popcorn was surely going to have us trying to remember just what the government’s slogan for Covid-19 protection happened to be that week.

Yet the concessions stand has been well handled. Pre-packaged foods, well-trained staff – doing their utmost in testing circumstances – and a tightened range of food and drink offered a sensible way forward. But countering that, it’s hard not to acknowledge the end of the pick ‘n’ mix vats. That one of cinema’s real treats is not coming back for a very long time, even when they reopen again.

Cinema pick ‘n’ mix is pretty legendary, of course.

Firstly, for its unerring ability to surprise you at just how much the cost on the scales exceeds what you reckon you put in the bag. Oftentimes to the point where if you’re like me, you want an independent reassessment of the scales, or a third party enquiry to assure you the bag itself isn’t made of lead.

Then, of course, there’s the tension of not knowing if a six-year-old has trawled their snotty fingers through the Jelly Babies. Plus, when you get into the cinema itself, the scientific miracle too of finding bags that rustle at a volume mere paper shouldn’t be able to manage.

Finally, the satisfaction of filling a fixed price cup, in establishments that offer such things. Top tip there: dolly mixture is your friend. Once you’ve filled up your cup, tip in some dolly mixture and shake it a little. The smaller sweets will, hopefully, drop into the gaps left behind. You can have that one on me.

Not that such a tip is a fat lot of use at the moment.

My local multiplex, before closure, had given up the ghost on pick ‘n’ mix, and removed the huge displays altogether. The posh Picturehouse Central venue in London meanwhile put an impressive display over the cabinets that once housed sweets, with not a sugar-filled cable in sight. Some chains were said to be selling pre-packaged pick ‘n’ mix, but on God’s earth, what’s the point of that? How is someone going to know the exact cocktail of foam shrimps, weird chocolate covered nut things and long red cables that haven’t seen Vitamin C in their life required to make me physically sick?

There’s no snack more personal in a cinema than that offered by the pick ‘n’ mix counter, and this article is both an acknowledgement of that and recognition that the overpriced Candy King stand has likely had its day. Consigned to live in our memories along with Butterkist Popcorn and King Cones in the interval. Because current guidance requires cinemas to remove all unpackaged and open self-service confectionery, and not until the government lifts current restrictions significantly – and, heck, allows cinemas to even open again – can that be reversed.

That reversal isn’t expected until well into next year, and that’s if things go well. As a consequence, a further profitable segment of cinema’s income has been hurt. And screenings will be shy of the familiar, mildly irritating bag rustles of old.

It goes to the fact, of course, that the cinema is going to be a changed place for some time to come. That both independents and multiplexes are adapting to whatever the new normal will be, and things will continue to evolve over the coming months too.

As for CandyKing, the biggest supplier of pick ‘n’ mix in UK cinemas, it’s offered an olive branch of sorts. It’s offering to deliver sweets in bulk to your home, a service usually offered for weddings and such like. Six boxes of sweet bananas? That’ll set you back £48 plus postage, which nominally should serve 40 people. You can find out more at, where you can also pick up a medium display stand for the princely sum of £910.

You’ll need to provide the snotty child yourself, though…


And finally: the top 5 pick ‘n’ mix sweets

It seems fair to mark the suspension of pick ‘n’ mix with the definitive list of the five finest sweets to be found amongst the range. This is a very scientific and entirely accurate list…

1. Foam bananas

The champion. But with one caveat: they can’t have been left to go rock hard. The perfect foam banana is slightly soft, and in truth, available for less in Poundland.

2. Cherry cola bottle

We’ve had to be disciplined here and allow just one fizzy sweet else a) the list will be dominated by them, and b) we’ll all be ill. The cherry cola bottle is the natural choice to fly the flag.

3. Strawberry cables

Not, to be clear, the little ones. No: the fully-bodied longer cables that need optimally to be at least half the length of a standard human arm.

4. Jelly foam hearts

A surprisingly strong performer. The mix of whatever the hell’s in the white bit and whatever the hell’s in the pink bit make for a satisfying union.

5. Pink and white mice

A controversial choice perhaps, but consider this: if you have a need for your sweets to make you feel light headed and on the verge of vomit very quickly, what more direct choice is there?

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