A recent Harris Poll found that 74 percent of millennial moms and young parents believe that this Halloween is more important than others and the National Confectioners Association found that 80 percent of people believe that they will find creative and safe ways to celebrate spooky season this year.
The latter number is up from just 63 percent in July, showing optimism as consumers continue to ease into a pre-pandemic way of life, but with masks, distancing and sanitizer.
New Jersey candy companies like Parsippany-based Ferrero NA and Mars Wrigley in Hackettstown have had to take a different approach to Halloween this year, with their leaders asking themselves a couple of questions. First, given the COVID-19 pandemic, what’s appropriate for us to promote people to do? And second, how do we still make it special?
For Ferrero’s mainstream chocolate business – which includes former Nestlé favorites Butterfinger, Crunch, 100 Grand and others – Halloween accounts for around 20 percent of its business each year.
That percentage is consistent with the industry, explained Ferrero Chief Executive Officer Paul Chibe, which the National Confectioners Association values at $36 billion nationwide.
But Chibe also noted Halloween’s importance as a time to forge relationships with consumers. “It’s a very important season even from a brand-building standpoint because for so many people, their first memories with candy brands are formed during Halloween,” Chibe said. “So it’s a very important season from a revenue standpoint, but also a very important season in terms of building your brand with consumers.”
Ferrero’s 31 Days of Halloween campaign is aimed at building excitement for the holiday among kids and parents, despite the unusual year they’ve had. Extending Halloween to be more than just a day isn’t a new idea: As Halloween approaches, decorations go up, costumes are planned, spooky-themed desserts are created. The goal of the campaign is to get people excited and to amplify sweet opportunities. Starting Oct. 1, Ferrero is sharing recipes, DIY projects, and more via Pinterest boards and social media influencer partnerships. Followers can expect decoration ideas, candy-inspired cocktail recipes, and party ideas for parents. How do you make your child’s Zoom Halloween party fun?
Highlighting the importance of letting kids indulge in Halloween tradition, Chibe notes that it’s an outside holiday, and one that kids can actually get excited about wearing their mask around on. Parents, too, can get creative with how they put out candy to minimize contact.
The New Jersey Food Council noted all three of these points in its COVID-19 trick-or-treat guidelines, along with a suggestion of hosting a small outdoor gathering such as a trunk-or-treat – where parents put “costumes” on their cars and park them together for kids to go from trunk to trunk for candy – or small parade with required physical distancing.
“We talk about this disruption of business, but I think the disruption of business is nothing compared to what has happened for kids. If you remember when you’re six or seven years old, a month is forever in your mind. Summer seems like it lasts forever when you’re six, seven, eight years old, and as an adult, you’re like ‘this is over already?’ It goes by in two seconds. So for them, COVID-19 has been forever,” Chibe noted. “They can’t see their friends, they can’t go to school, they can’t hang out with their buddies. And one of the things we talk about, Halloween is an event that every kid remembers. [I can remember] the crazy costumes I put on, walking up and down the street. It’s part of your formative years growing up.”
Mars Wrigley is highlighting at-home and virtual activities this Halloween with the launch of Treat Town, an app that lets users trick-or-treat virtually by buying and sending credits for candy purchases.
The app, billed as the world’s first-ever digital Halloween experience, launches Oct. 1.
“Mars Wrigley’s number-one priority this Halloween season is the safety of our consumers. We want to ensure consumers have safe ways to celebrate Halloween this year no matter what it might look like for their families,” Chief Halloween Officer and President of Sales for Mars Wrigley U.S. Tim LeBel told NJBIZ. “While trick-or-treating is of course a major way we know consumers celebrate the holiday with our products, we also know this year will include new traditions, like at-home moments or smaller-scale celebrations.”
For such celebrations, whether for family scary movie nights or virtual costume parties, the company is selling small- and medium-sized variety bags of treats such as Milky Way, Twix, Snickers, and 3 Musketeers bars.
Longstanding multi-billion-dollar companies such as Ferrero and Mars typically plan many months – if not years – ahead for even routine holiday seasons like Halloween. LeBel said Mars Wrigley’s Halloween season is planned two years ahead, while Chibe said that this Halloween season was fully planned by last December. But when things changed in March, both companies had to be agile.
“You’re already thinking of Halloween in December, January; and then when COVID happened, you had to think about how it would impact business, impact marketing, impact orders … and adapt,” Chibe said. “Looking at what the marketers were able to do [with the creation of 31 Days of Halloween in April], the team pivoted quickly. I don’t think there was extreme difficulty coming up with ideas, I think the question was always if there’s going to be an extreme impact, how would we manage the production? Fortunately, orders have come in strong. And actually, the retailers are more bullish on the season than they were earlier when they were first having discussions on how COVID would impact the season.”
After reassessing in March, LeBel said Mars Wrigley streamlined its seasonal portfolio to focus on our consumers’ favorite Halloween items and top sellers like M&M’S, Snickers, and variety packs; and the company is now offering new pack types and products this year for the season as well.
“Our everyday favorites will also be widely available in multiple pack types, like fun size, to account for flexible celebrations this year. Whether that’s trick-or-treating on Oct. 31, or micro moments throughout the month with treats at home,” LeBel said.
Chibe said that while grocery numbers were reported to be widely affected due to more people eating at home during the pandemic, confections numbers weren’t affected to the same degree because the business shifted. With fewer people commuting back work and stopping in at convenience stores, the single-serve business suffered; but it’s been made up by in-aisle purchases at the grocery store. And while brands like Crunch and Baby Ruth have longstanding strength as Halloween treats, Kinder Joy eggs are doing well this year as consumers tend to spend more on trick-or-treat items for kids they know.
LeBel noted that Mars Wrigley also has leaned into digital commerce and pack optimization as consumers seek out pack sizes suited to stock their candy jar at home. Recent numbers are good: New data from the NCA shows that Halloween chocolate and candy sales are actually up this year. For the four weeks ending Sept. 6, total Halloween chocolate and candy sales are up 13 percent year over year – growth driven by Halloween chocolate, which is up 25.3 percent.
“Having seen what my own children have gone through – kids have had a tough go,” Chibe said of the months since March. “When you’re seven years old, six months is a huge portion of their life. If we can have some acknowledgement that this has been a tough circumstance, and we can give some notion of normalcy for Halloween, I think we can do that.”