Candy Brands Are Trying to Solve the Halloween Pandemic Puzzle

Trick-or-treating and other traditional ways of celebrating are off the table

candy bars falling into a plastic jack-o-lantern bowl
Candy brands are turning the Halloween season into a month-long celebration instead of one day. Ferrero

This Halloween had a lot going for it in terms of being an optimal day for spooky celebrations.

The holiday lands on a Saturday with a full moon, for starters. Plus, daylight saving comes to an end in the wee hours of Nov. 1, giving revelers an extra hour to stay up late eating candy and bingeing horror flicks. This convergence of events is so rare that it won’t happen again for at least another century and a half, according to the Halloween Industry Association, a trade group formed to promote the holiday.

Unfortunately, the current public health crisis has dampened the Halloween spirit.

To help slow the spread of Covid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against traditional trick-or-treating. Haunted houses, hayrides with strangers and crowded indoor costume parties are also out. Hosting an outdoor scary movie night is less risky—assuming attendees remain six feet apart—but “if screaming will likely occur,” the agency explains on its website, “greater distancing is advised.”

In the weeks leading up to Halloween 2019, total U.S. candy sales hit $4.6 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association, whose members include industry heavyweights Mars, Ferrero and Hershey’s. That dollar amount is larger than those generated by Valentine’s Day ($3.5 billion), Easter ($3.5 billion) and the winter holidays ($4.5 billion).

But between Sept. 1 and Oct. 11 this year, candy ad spend across TV, digital and print was down 22% compared to last year, according to data intelligence platform MediaRadar.

To overcome the obstacles this year has presented, candy brands are approaching Halloween by embracing what the day is all about: creativity and imagination.

“It used to be we get the kids to the candy,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight for market researcher Mintel’s food and drink division. “Now they’re trying to get the candy to the kids.”

Hershey’s-owned Reese’s has created a remote-controlled, 9-foot-tall robotic door that drives and dispenses king-size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. When the device detects someone say “trick or treat,” it delivers the candy through its mail slot. Sour Patch Kids, owned by Mondelēz International, is orchestrating a “reverse trick-or-treat experience” where the brand will deliver bags of candy to lucky households in 12 U.S. cities.

Mars Wrigley, maker of M&M’s, Snickers and Skittles, created a virtual world that allows people to give and receive candy from home through October.

In an app called Treat Town, users select a Halloween-themed profile, then knock on other doors within the platform’s universe. Digital candy amounts to credits that can be exchanged for physical treats at select retailers. By mid-October, more than 100,000 people had downloaded Treat Town, according to the company.

“We’re trying to simulate trick-or-treating as much as possible and tap into some of the fun rituals,” Chris Brody, brand content and communications architect at Mars, told Adweek prior to the app’s Oct. 1 debut. “We have users and candy credit sales in every state,” he added.

Candy brands are also creating content and activities for families to celebrate safely at home. Ferrero, owner of Butterfinger, Crunch and Baby Ruth, is posting a new way to enjoy Halloween on Pinterest every day in October, with help from influencer partners.

Reese’s has created a door that will deliver treats directly to kids.Reese’s

“Parents are always ingenious and creative when it comes to their children and the joy of their children, but our approach is to add to that,” said Mark Wakefield, svp of marketing for Nutella and chocolate snacks at Ferrero North America. Work for the initiative began in the summer months when the brand realized it needed to plan for a different type of Halloween.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 26, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@hiebertpaul paul.hiebert@adweek.com Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.
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