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Scavenger hunts, goodies dangling from a tree, and Covid-19 playing cards: confectionery makers are getting inventive to avoid wasting Halloween

Barry Chin | The Boston Globe | Getty Images

Americans will be wearing a different type of mask this Halloween.

For some, knocking on doors and getting bags of candy from strangers can become less attractive as people narrow their social circles. Office candy cups remain empty. And Halloween costume parties can be scaled down or canceled.

However, candy companies, including Hershey and Ferrero, are hoping that kids will still try trick or treating and adults looking for candy, even if their celebration is easier or more socially aloof due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has also inspired these companies to take a bolder approach to marketing when consulting with medical experts, issuing safety guidelines, encouraging creativity – and even defending trick or treating in public spaces.

"People are going to have to get creative this year, but that doesn't mean they have to sit out this year," said Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs for the National Confectioners Association.

He said instead of going door-to-door, the trading group had heard of families planning to go on candy scavenger hunts, tie individually wrapped goodies to a tree in the front yard, or do trick or treating for their children in separate rooms of theirs own home. Some neighborhoods plan socially distant costume parades before returning home to enjoy candy they bought for their own households.

"Our Super Bowl"

Halloween is the biggest sales driver for the chocolate, candy, chewing gum, and peppermint industries, outperforming other seasons like Valentine's Day, Easter, and Christmas. It accounts for about $ 4.6 billion of the industry's annual sales of $ 36 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association.

"It's our Super Bowl," said the Gindlesperger of the trading group. "It's our World Cup moment."

The vacation is so meaningful to Snickers maker Mars Wrigley that it starts planning two years in advance and works with retailers on new trends and new flavors. The privately held company began executing its plans in March, according to Tim LeBel, president of US sales, who also holds the title "Chief Halloween Officer" from July to October 31.

The National Retail Federation predicts that Halloween consumer spending will fall 8% this year to $ 8.05 billion, but predicts that those who party will spend an average of 6% more.

So far, with Halloween more than a month away, seasonal candy has sold more than usual. In the last four weeks to September 6, total Halloween chocolate and candy sales increased 13% over the same period in 2019, according to market research firm IRI. Grocery stores increased 17%.

Krishnakumar Davey, president of strategic analytics at IRI, said the increase could be due to Halloween candy being on display earlier than usual. For example, the Hershey holiday season started two or three weeks earlier, depending on the retailer. That means these pumpkin-shaped chocolates are attracting the attention of consumers who are enjoying the change of season or who want to indulge themselves or find a way to deal with it during a difficult time.

"Chocolate is an affordable treat and some people use it when they're in need," he said.

According to IRI data, Easter candy sales have declined about 4% across the industry, so companies want to be proactive with marketing. "They are trying to shape their fate," he said.

Family-sized packs and a longer sales season

Mondelez, manufacturer of Swedish sweets for fish and sour Patch Kids, expects higher sales for the Halloween business this year. According to Iryna Shandarivska, head of Mondelez's U.S. confectionery division, consumers are eschewing the individual packages that are best for trick or treating distribution in favor of family-sized packages. And while most Halloween candy purchases typically take place in the week leading up to the holiday, this year the company expects purchases to be more evenly distributed before Halloween.

Hershey is also forecasting higher Halloween sales this year. Phil Stanley, the company's global chief sales officer, said Halloween sales had increased more than 21% in the past six weeks. The holiday accounts for around a tenth of its annual sales, and typically around half of the sweets purchased during the season are for consumer use and not distributed to children.

Ferrera, who owns the well-known sweet corn producer Brach & # 39; s, assumes that sales will also increase. The company produces 85% of all sweet corn sold in the US annually.

According to Peter Goldman, Vice President of Seasonal Confectionery at Ferrara, Brach's candy bags were shipped earlier than in previous years – and consumer fulfillment starts three months earlier than usual. It also included more types of candy in individual sachets, introduced a new type of candy called Turkey Dinner Candy Corn, and increased the focus on e-commerce. The company is part of the Ferrero Group.

But not all confectionery manufacturers expect a boost in sales. Paul Chibe, CEO of Ferrero North America, said the company anticipates sales will remain unchanged this Halloween as families become more cautious. Confectionery brands include Halloween staples like Crunch, Baby Ruth, and Butterfinger, as well as other well-known brands like Nutella, Tic Tac, and Ferrero Roche. Sales of candy during the season make up about 20% of the company's annual sales.

The company launched a new campaign called "31 Days of Halloween" to encourage customers to extend their vacation.

However, during the pandemic, Ferrero and other candy manufacturers saw sales soar as people search for affordable goodies. Hershey's S & # 39; mores kits have received a boost as consumers spend more time outdoors. Chibe said his Nutella business is growing "like crazy" as more children are having breakfast at home and sales of his premium Ferrero Roche chocolates have also skyrocketed. Nutella sales increased by 17%. He said customers buy larger packs when they buy candy too.

"A lot of people feel like I can't go to a restaurant. I can't eat out, but if I go to the grocery store I'll be pampered," he said.

Ferrero's chocolate sales are up 5% year on year. The daily chocolate portfolio, which includes Butterfinger, Crunch, Baby Ruth, Kinder Joy, and Kinder Bueno, is up 16%, according to the company.

According to Chibe, customers can upgrade to premium brands like Kinder Joy if they buy large sets of trick or treating for their own children instead. He also said the vacation gives families a break.

"Children had a hard time with the coronavirus," he said. "They are out of school. They are not with their friends. They cannot take part in all of the after-school activities. It would be a shame if adults, with all the creativity and ingenuity we have, couldn't." I find out how children can celebrate Halloween. "

And he added, trick or treating can be pandemic friendly because it's outdoors, costumes can include face masks, and candy can be shared in a non-contact manner.

Address security concerns

The National Confectionery Association trading group recently defended trick or treating after Los Angeles health officials banned the tradition. Health officials later pulled back and instead added it to a list of activities that were not recommended.

Other officials, such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, said they would not take official action but acknowledged that the celebrations would be different – along with almost everything else during the Pandemic.

The National Confectionery Association has a website called Halloween Central that has suggested safe ways to party, quotes from politicians and medical experts, and links to social distancing guidelines from centers for disease control and prevention.

Some candy manufacturers address parenting safety concerns as part of their vacation marketing plans.

Mars Wrigley, for example, is releasing an app for a virtual trick-or-treating experience in early October that allows users to collect points for redeeming real candy like the 3 Musketeers and M & Ms. LeBel said the company also makes small and medium sized bags for Zoom costume parties and scary movie nights among families.

With support from the Halloween Costume Association and the Harvard Global Health Institute, Hershey has created a website that outlines how to safely celebrate given the spread of Covid-19 in the geographic area.

Chibe acknowledged changes in behavior could mess up sales, and said his own routine will change too. In his St. Louis neighborhood, he and his wife typically hand out full-size candy bars of trick or treating. This year, he said, they plan to decorate, put bags of candy together, and stay socially aloof when kids pick them up from the porch.

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