Halloween’s mixed bag: Candy sales predicted soar to $3b, but COVID could frighten away some celebrants

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/LWA/Dann Tardif
Source: Getty/LWA/Dann Tardif

Related tags Halloween Candy COVID

Spending on Halloween candy is predicted to rebound to an all time high this year after the pandemic frightened away most trick-or-treaters and celebrants last year – causing sales to slump to a five-year low, according to industry research.

An annual survey​ conducted for the National Retail Federation by Prosper Insights & Analytics predicts Halloween candy sales should hit $3b this year – a startling 20% increase over the $2.4b spent last year and a 15% over pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The uptick reflects more Americans planning to celebrate the holiday this year (65%) than last (58%), even though most children younger than 12 years will not yet be vaccinated – making it scarier for some caregivers and kids to dress up and go door-to-door collecting candy.

Pfizer says it plans to submit to FDA vaccine information for children aged 5 to 11 year “soon,” but it is unlikely that widespread inoculation for this group will be done by Halloween.

Despite vaccination limits, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that most children should still be able to trick-or-treat safely outside if they avoid crowds and parties – a potentially influential recommendation that could bolster families’ confidence and subsequently boost candy sales.

Pandemic continues to dampen festivities

While plans to celebrate Halloween may be up compared to last year – they are still down compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to new research​ from Numerator.

In a typical year, 64% of Halloween celebrators pass out candy, but this year only 56% plan to do so, according to Numerator. Likewise, only 33% plan to gather with family or friends this year compared to 43% in a more typical year, and only 29% plan to trick-or-treat compared to 41% in a more typical year.

Of course, trick-or-treating isn’t a prerequisite for buying candy and snacks for Halloween. According to Numerator, 56% of Halloween celebrators will buy treats for themselves or their households. While down slightly from a typical year’s 59%, the drop off is notably less among this group than those planning to distribute candy to trick-or-treaters (62% this year vs 72% in a typical year).

Where consumers live – and their vaccination status – likely will influence how they celebrate Halloween and how much candy they buy, according to Numerator.

The survey of 1,018 Halloween celebrants found those located in the Northeast were significantly more likely to pass out candy at 65% compared to 56% overall. The South had the second highest portion of participants passing out candy at 56%, followed by 54% in the Midwest and 48% in the West.

A similar distribution, but at much lower levels, was found for trick-or-treating, with 35% of celebrants in the Northeast planning to collect candy, followed by 27% in the South, 30% in the Midwest and 23% in the West, according to Numerator.

While consumers who are vaccinated should have less to be frightened of this Halloween, Numerator found these consumers less likely to plan on trick-or-treating this Halloween, while those not planning to get the vaccine are more likely to do so. According to the survey, 34% of those who do not plan to get the vaccine plan on trick-or-treating and 20% plan to attend or host a party compared to 26% and 16% of vaccinated respondents respectively.

Marketers get creative to boost sales in second abnormal year

With more money on the table this year than last, candy manufacturers are launching limited edition sweets and creative marketing campaigns to win sales.

For example, both Unilever and Ferrero launched marketing campaigns that spoof caregivers’ tendency to swipe sweets from their children’s Halloween candy stashes.

Ferrero is bringing back its “Turn Yourself In” sweepstakes promotion that offers a $25,000 prize to entice fans accused of swiping Butterfingers from friends and family this Halloween to send in a mugshot selfie using one of the brands custom templates and interactive stickers.

Unilever is hoping to generate sales and redirect caregivers who are tempted to steal Halloween candy from their children by offering them a buy-one-get-one coupon for Klondike and Breyers REESE’S frozen treats if they text ‘confess’ to 64827.

Hershey’s also is vying for its share of the Halloween market with a line-up of limited edition treats, including snack size Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins and Reese’s Franken-Cup Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kat Witch’s Brew flavor, Hershey’s Kisses Vampire Chocolates filled with blood-red strawberry flavored crème, Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Crème Fangs and snack sized Hershey Halloween shapes ranging from milk chocolate tombstones to White Crème Ghosts.

As manufacturers battle it out for market share, the previous winners to beat, according to Candystore.com​ based on 14 years of sales data from 2007 to 2020 are Reese’s Cups, Skittles, M&Ms, Starburst, Hot Tamales, Sour Patch Kids, Hershey Kisses, Snickers, Tootsie Pops and Candy Corn.

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