Editor's Plate: Creative Marketing Efforts Help Halloween Triumph Over COVID

Oct. 13, 2020
Candy-makers create safe alternatives to trick or treating and keep candy sales soaring.

This year’s Halloween, like every 2020 holiday, will be different; but one that shows how creative and resilient is the food and beverage industry—and especially its candy category. We’ve seen this ingenuity throughout the pandemic and from different categories within the food industry, but what I saw in the weeks leading up to October was special.

Halloween already had morphed from a single night of door-to-door trick-or-treating on October 31 into a billion-dollar industry with weeks of celebrations, parties and parades enjoyed by people of all ages. And for people like me, an excuse to buy bags of miniature chocolate bars. But that kind of growth only makes it a bigger potential loss. Canceling Halloween altogether would be another economic disruption in a year that has had more than enough of those from Covid-19.

How big a disruption? Halloween “season” accounts for approximately $4.6 billion in sales each year during the eight weeks leading up to Oct. 31, according to the National Confectioners Association.

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Different locales across the country are considering or suggesting different rules. As of October 1, few seem to be pushing for outright bans on trick or treating, but everywhere there are dire warnings about social distancing, crowded parties and the contact tracing nightmare of having a hundred kids show up at your door … and then having those kids visit 50 more houses. Everyone—both the trick-or-treaters themselves and the homeowners handing out the candy—need to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

It would have been so easy to scrap the “holiday” entirely. After all, this is not a day steeped in religion or national identity. But it’s already been a difficult year for kids, who have had to endure remote learning, probably no summer vacation trip, the cancellation of sports and activities and being around their parents 24/7.

“Halloween is more important than ever this year as we navigate the new normal together and are seeking opportunities to celebrate safely,” said Chuck Raup, U.S. group president of Hershey Co.

So it was time to improvise.

Candy manufacturers led the charge, and admittedly they had the most to lose.

Mars introduced Treat Town, an app-based digital experience for families to virtually trick or treat for real candy. The virtual Halloween portal launched “at the stroke of midnight” on Oct. 1. It’s “an interactive and inclusive experience that’s fun for the whole family” and for the whole month of October. “Decorate your virtual door, help your kids create spooky monster avatars and invite friends, family and neighbors to join the fun,” the Mars web page explains.

Ferrero launched “31 days of Halloween.” “Through influencer partners, digital advertising and social media, Ferrero will share 31 days of creative ways to make the most of the season” – as well as to buoy sales of its Butterfinger, Crunch, Baby Ruth and other candy bars.

Hershey has several web pages dedicated to ideas—from pumpkin decorating possibilities (using Hershey products, of course) to Halloween games to making monsters, bats and spiders out of Kisses, Hershey Chocolate Bars and miniatures. And the company helped develop a color-coded map with the Harvard Global Health Institute that details Covid-19 risk level by county to help people assess how to safely celebrate. The suggestions range from trick-or-treating with masks in areas that are low-risk to candy hunts at home in areas that are high-risk.

It all appears to be working. For the four weeks ending September. 6, NCA data shows Halloween chocolate and candy sales are up 13% this year over the same period in 2019. It looks like that sales trend will hold up for the rest of September and October as well.

You have to be both proud and thankful of the special position the food & beverage industry holds in American life. At a time when entire industry categories (cruise ships, movie theaters, attended sporting events) are at least temporarily out of business, food & beverage remains vibrant and essential.

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