Will COVID-19 bludgeon Halloween sales?

Photo: @Etters via Twenty20
Jul 27, 2020
Tom Ryan

Only 27 percent of U.S. adults anticipate seeing kids trick-or-treat on October 31, according to a Harris Poll taken in mid-July. Yet neither Hershey, Mars Wrigley nor Spirit Halloween are giving up on Halloween, retail’s third biggest shopping holiday.

Hershey has shifted some products from Halloween-themed packaging to “more everyday” in case sales come up short due to a resurgence of coronavirus cases. The brand, however, doesn’t currently expect a seasonal impact in the back half from COVID-19, Michele Buck, CEO, told analysts last week.

Trick-or-treating only makes up about half of Hershey’s Halloween candy sales, with the rest representing products that consumers buy for themselves or their families.

Ms. Buck said she also has gained confidence from a “pretty decent” Easter and advanced Halloween orders. Most retailers “are continuing to lean in to anticipate and drive to a very strong Halloween.”

Finally, she added, “We also think that consumers will find creative and safe ways to trick-or-treat. It is an outdoor event, and it’s an event where a lot of masks are already worn. There is no evidence of the virus being passed through packaging or food. So, we feel pretty good based on what we’re seeing so far from consumer feedback.”

Should trick-or-treat sales trend below expectations, Hershey will focus more on “the treat for me and the candy ball occasion” for homes.

Mars Wrigley is planning more conservatively for Halloween and making sure it has “the right range, in the right quantities, available digitally by each banner and retailer that we do business with,” Tim LeBel, president of sales for Mars Wrigley, told Advertising Age in early July.

But he was “very optimistic” that kids would either be trick-or-treating or “trunk-or-treating,” an alternative version developed over the last decade that sees kids fetching candy from vehicle to vehicle in a parking lot under parental watch.

Also bullish is Spirit Halloween, the largest U.S. Halloween store franchise. In response to rumors stores wouldn’t be opening, Spirit Halloween in late June shared in a tweet along with a photo a hazmat suit costume, “We are safely preparing the best in-store experience possible & can’t wait to welcome you back at our 1,400 locations.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the COVID-19 crisis likely have a minor or major impact on Halloween’s retail spend? What adjustments or programs can retailers or brands come up with to stoke demand?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"There is still money to be made for certain, but retailers will need to battle for share of market like never before."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Will COVID-19 bludgeon Halloween sales?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jeff Sward

In what may be viewed as an odd twist in logic, I think spending in the Halloween time frame will be up. Some very Halloween-specific product may suffer, but people are going to be in the mood for some levity and Halloween has become a great excuse for a “party.” Imagine the fun and creativity in coming up with Halloween masks. It’s already a time for mask wearing! Plus a late Prime Day will have kicked off holiday spending as retailers simply have to figure out how to spread November/December sales volume out over a wider window. Color Halloween green!

Dick Seesel

It’s naive to think that Halloween 2020 will look anything like previous years, given that every other aspect of normal life has been disrupted. I expect brick-and-mortar Halloween pop-up stores to be affected the most, unless they have a strong omnichannel footprint. (And they had better be ready for curbside pickup, too.) Halloween costuming has become a social occasion for adults, not just kids, and this could take a particular hit given social distancing, bar closings, etc.

I think candy makers will find a way to come through this with less damage, because parents will make an extra effort to make Halloween trick-or-treating happen for their kids — even if it’s the drive-through variety. But there will be more reluctance than usual to handle candy packaging that might have been in the wrong hands, so to speak.

Suresh Chaganti

It appears Halloween will be muted but not so much that only 27 percent will participate. Companies are thinking smart – having flexible packaging is the key. Except for candy, other props are not perishable anyways. I think some protocols/recommendations will evolve – only giving out individually packaged candy, putting candy outside for self-serve, etc.

Dave Bruno

I actually think Halloween could be a potential bright spot for retail. As Tom mentioned, trick or treating is traditionally an outdoor activity, where many kids wear masks. Plus there are lots of tweaks that can be made to eliminate doorbell ringing to enhance safety. I think the real opportunity for retail, however, is in providing a safe space for trick or treat activities in their parking lots and on their sidewalks. Now is the time to work with landlords, property managers, and city planners to develop comprehensive plans to create safe trick or treat zones that attract families to your spaces for candy, costumes, and community. Look for add-on activities that can be safely added to the trick or treating to create a truly fun family atmosphere. I am thinking of things like socially distanced costume contests and kid-friendly Halloween drive-in movies in the parking lots.

Neil Saunders

Halloween will not be cancelled. People will still celebrate it and will buy candy and other treats. However, overall spending is likely to be down compared to 2019. Why? Because fewer people will attend parties and events, so fewer will buy costumes. It is unlikely that kids will trick or treat to the same degree as they do in normal years. And, on top of these shifts, there will be more households looking to save money – especially if benefits get cut. There is still money to be made for certain, but retailers will need to battle for share of market like never before.

Richard Hernandez

With so much uncertainty, I just don’t think parents are going to let their kids go out and get candy from neighbors or strangers. We don’t know if kids will even be back in school by then and if they are not yet in a classroom, I don’t see parents letting their kids go out into the public.

Ryan Mathews

COVID-19 will impact Halloween, but perhaps not as significantly as some think. I’ve seen plenty of birthday parties all through the lockdown, so I expect that Halloween “house parties” may replace traditional door-to-door begging. Living in an urban area I’ve noticed a steady decrease in younger trick or treaters (ages two to 11) for years, replaced by young people (ages 12 to 18 or older) over the past 10 years. Many parents here already opt for school parties, house parties, and daytime trick or treating through business districts, at least in the case of younger children. If I were a retailer or manufacturer I’d be promoting the trick or treat party at home idea, maybe looking for a pizza partner to cross promote with.

Gene Detroyer

Hmmm. An interesting word choice, “bludgeon.” Very Halloween.

Ken Morris

I believe there is pent-up demand for some fun and the kids have been cooped up for far too long. We will match sales from last year with a decided shift to the e-commerce channel. Even if they can’t go door to door they will still be buying costumes and consuming vast quantities of candy. This holiday will take on more importance this Halloween.

Doug Garnett

I am expecting a major impact on Halloween spend. That said, those wanting to make good money this year will focus on “inside the bubble home Halloween parties.” Consumers will be out of ideas for keeping the kids entertained as we enter the darkest part of the year.

Ralph Jacobson

The quick answer, is yes, Halloween candy sales will be down because the fresh wounds from the pandemic will hardly heal by then. Need to plan for that as a retailer.

John Karolefski

Candy makers are scrambling to develop creative promotions for Halloween during the coronavirus pandemic. But sadly, they won’t be enough to offset a likely decline in sales compared to past Halloween seasons. I expect fewer trick or treaters at the door and more in-home parties where everybody will be wearing masks. How ironic.

Mel Kleiman

I asked myself one question: Would I let my children or grandchildren go trick or treating? My answer is NO.

What is your answer?

I know we will figure out some way to celebrate Halloween, but I will be buying a lot less candy to pass out.

Gene Detroyer

I assure you my grandchildren will not go Trick or Treating, even if absolute progress is made on COVID. That isn’t my decision, but that of their very smart parents.

Craig Sundstrom

I was torn between a humorous response — “mask sales will be strong” — and a hectoring one “don’t you get it? EVERYthing will be majorly impacted!” So I’ll settle on the ole’ standby: we just don’t really know.

Halloween is still three months away, and it’s not unreasonable, I hope, that things will have improved by then, but it’s pretty obvious they won’t be back to “normal” yet (even under best case scenarios). I’ll split the difference and say a moderate impact. Also, retailers need to be careful they don’t attempt promotions that end up looking irresponsible.

Gene Detroyer

Yes, “retailers need to be careful they don’t attempt promotions that end up looking irresponsible.” I assure you, we will be discussing their irresponsibility come October.

Rachelle King
A great deal hinges on wave-2 of the COVID-19 pandemic. By some expert accounts, it may be worse than wave-1 and thereby, may have an unpredictable impact on Halloween. However, all we can do is plan from where we are now and that means adjusting to a new normal that is reshaping the way retailers and consumers engage with each other. Despite everything, retailers have a role in bringing hope and inspiration to the families and communities they serve. Attempting to keep some semblance of normal in a time of constant change is one small step in that direction. Retailers can make parents feel safe by promoting individually wrapped treats, online shopping and having fun with masks (since we have to wear them anyway). Still, Hershey is also right to build in more everyday packaging to account for uncertainty and help ensure sell-thru. Parents see how hard these recent months have been on kids and will want to give them a safe outlet for fun, no matter how small; even if it turns into a… Read more »
8 months 24 days ago

Halloween parties contain masks. Party on!

"There is still money to be made for certain, but retailers will need to battle for share of market like never before."

Take Our Instant Poll

How much of a hurdle will COVID-19 crisis have around driving Halloween’s sales?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...