*The following article originally appeared in NACS Magazine on August 10, 2020.
Hershey, Mars Wrigley Gear Up for Halloween
The spooky holiday may look different because of COVID-19, but it isn’t cancelled.
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Halloween is less than three months away, and the Hershey Company predicts that this year, celebrations will be more family-oriented and the run-up to the night of trick-or-treating more important than ever, Candy Industry reports.
Mars Wrigley, based in Hackettstown, N.J., said in some markets, trunk-or-treating might be more common this October than sending trick-or-treaters door to door in the neighborhood.
“Halloween celebrations are likely to be different this year, with an earlier start to the season and more geographic differences than in prior years,” Hershey Chairman and CEO Michele Buck said on the Hershey, Pa.-based company’s second-quarter earnings call. “We expect that there will be more at-home activities, with families sharing timeless traditions and new ways for people to celebrate with neighbors.”
Tim LeBel, president of sales and chief Halloween officer for Mars Wrigley U.S., agrees. “Halloween will still happen, but it may look significantly different.” In a podcast for Ad Age, LeBel said Mars is “very optimistic” that kids will go trick-or-treating and also attend “trunk-or-treat” gatherings where people decorate their cars and serve up candy from their trunks.
Nearly three-quarters of millennial and Gen Z moms surveyed believe Halloween is more important than ever this year, according to a National Confectioners Association (NCA) Halloween survey conducted by The Harris Poll June 16-24, 2020, among a national sample of 1,000 adults.
“Consumers report that they will be getting creative throughout the month of October to make sure that they can stay safe and still enjoy the Halloween season,” said John Downs, president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association. “The results of our research reveal a deeply rooted enthusiasm for Halloween, even if it means that people have to rethink their approach this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Downs added, “One thing is for sure—Halloween is happening.”
The holiday is the largest of the year for candy sales. In 2019, overall confectionery sales for the eight weeks leading up to October 31 totaled $4.6 billion, according to the NCA.
Hershey said the celebrations start about 10 weeks out, with consumers filling at-home candy bowls with treats, decorating their homes, baking sweets and sharing gifts. Halloween candy sees a 50-50 split between in-home personal consumption and candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters.
There’s debate about just how many costumed ghosts and goblins will be allowed to venture out for traditional trick or treating as the pandemic drags on.
“It is an outdoor event, and it’s an event where a lot of masks are already worn,” Buck said. “There’s no evidence of the virus being passed through packaging or food, so we feel pretty good based on what we’re seeing so far from consumer feedback. But if trick-or-treat tends to be a little lower than expectation, clearly, we’ll focus even more on the ‘treat for me’ and the ‘candy bowl’ occasion.”
Hershey’s most popular pack types (assortment and snack size) of candy have grown about 12% during the COVID-19 pandemic, Buck said. And consumers continue to indulge in these in-home treats. Hershey is working with retailers to ensure sell-through before the holiday, making sure they have the right merchandising and products on the floor, and afterward to remove seasonal packaging, introduce more everyday options and work through mark-down plans, Candy Industry reports.
Mars Wrigley begins planning for Halloween sales two years in advance. This year, the company will bring back Skittles Zombies and Halloween packaging for M&Ms and other favorites. Mars Wrigley also is developing a virtual Halloween hub with online trick-or-treating, games and ways to purchase candy, AdAge reports.
Across the industry, chocolate sales have fared well during the pandemic. They’re up about 4.5% since mid-March, compared with 2.2% growth for all of 2019, a 2020 NCA market analysis shows.
“Chocolate and candy have been very resilient in this COVID-19 environment,” Downs said. “Consumers appreciate and value chocolate and candy during these uncertain times because of their uncanny ability to boost your mood and lighten your perspective.”