What can you buy at airports? Gucci bags, of course, but also plenty of locally-themed items that can be great souvenirs of your trip.
Here’s a slightly different version of a column on airport bestsellers I put together for CNBC.
Bottled water and neck pillows may be the top selling items in many airport newsstands, but around the country passengers are also making room in their carry-ons for containers of mustard, tins of popcorn and a plethora of pink headphones.
As airports around the country sharpen their focus on customer satisfaction and increase their reliance on income from food and beverage, specialty retail and other non-aeronautical revenue, concourses are getting more comfortable and shop offerings are becoming more creative.
At Denver International Airport, almond toffee made in nearby Grand Junction, CO by Enstrom Coffee & Confectionary is a top seller, while at the gourmet 1897 Market operated by HMSHost at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, locally-made Sweet Girl Cookies and Queen Charlotte’s Original Pimento Cheese are customer favorites.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport does a brisk business in scorpion suckers (hard candy with a scorpion in the center) and racks up a million dollars in sales of cactus plants each year.
“We have a variety of different shapes and sizes packaged so that travelers can take one home with them,” said Heather Lissner, spokeswoman for the Aviation Department of the City of Phoenix, “We also offer a petting cactus, which is easy to touch compared to the other varieties.”
Flying Pig products – pig hats, plush pigs, pig-shaped lip gloss, bags of Pig Poop (chocolate covered peanuts) and other souvenirs depicting winged pigs – are, collectively, the top selling merchandise in the shops at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Why flying pigs? During the mid-to-late 1800s, Cincinnati was the largest pork processing center in the country, earning the nickname ‘Porkopolis.’ Winged pigs are one way the city embraces its past.
Speaking of pigs, at San Francisco International Airport – which recently added a pig to its team of therapy animals that visit with passengers – locally-made Candied Bacon Caramel Corn from Chunky Pig is reportedly flying off the shelves at the Skyline News Shop in Terminal 3.
At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Garrett Popcorn – a modern hometown favorite, is a perennial top seller.
Combined, the two Garrett Popcorn Shops at O’Hare sold more than 47,000 one-gallon tins of popcorn (assorted varieties) during 2016, at an average price of $34.50 a tin, said Gregg Cunningham of the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Sweet Beginnings Honey, made by bees at the airport’s apiary also sells well at the O’Hare Farmers’ Market.
During February alone, the shops at Norman Mineta San Jose International sold more than 15,000 bottles of water, more than 200 Belkin phone chargers and an equal number of Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry-branded clothing.
Sports-related merchandise is a big seller at other airports as well – especially when teams and players are winning.
At the AIRMALL at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, sports memorabilia sells well, but so does locally-made ballpark-style mustard; at the rate of 40 cases each month.
Sasquatch and Big Foot-branded items, including t-shirts, stickers, food and books are popular right now at the Made in Oregon stores at Portland International Airport. But store manager Candace Vincent said the airport stores sold more than $1 million of carpet-themed products (neck pillows, socks, shirts, jam, etc.) during 2015 and 2016 when locals mourning the replacement of the airport’s iconic teal flooring turned the rug and its pattern into an on-line sensation.
And at Newark Liberty International Airport, travelers have been snapping up vinyl records from the shop at CBGB L.A.B (lounge and bar) operated by OTG in Terminal C.
“We don’t report volumes, but I can tell you it’s the top seller in that retail concept,” said Eric Brinker, OTG’s Vice President of Experience, “People are buying record players in the shop as well.”
In Houston, where OTG is working with United Airlines to redo the dining and retail offerings in its terminals at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, there’s also a surprising best-seller.
“We sell tons of headphones in Houston,” said Brinker, “And for some reason we sell more pink headphones in Texas than in any other place in the country.”
(All photos courtesy of the respective airports.)