Scary Good Performance: Halloween Confection Sales

Halloween confection sales were strong across all retail channels, with c-stores serving as the ‘fill-in’ place

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Retailers across all channels finished the 2013 Halloween selling season just as they began in late September: very strong, as total merchandise sales of all confections rose 6.1% from like-period 2012.  

According to stats presented during the latest installment of the National Confectioners Association’s Sweet Insights webinar series—titled “2013 Halloween Confectionery Review”—retailers took on an average of nine new confection items across the consolidated category and, by most accounts, retail channels are “getting more efficient” each year when it comes to strategy execution around the Halloween season. 

When Halloween products are heavily promoted (candy promotions this season rose 6.6%), the result is incremental growth rather than cannibalization. 

“With merchandised volume, retailers did not take their foot off the gas,” said Larry Wilson, vice president of customer relations for Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA). “This has not necessarily been the case in the past. From an execution standpoint, they finished: The category for Halloween rose above year-ago performance in both dollars and units.”

Drug gets the love

The drug channel proved to be the Halloween destination, thanks in great part to convenience (similar to c-stores, often there’s a CVS or Walgreens on every corner). Moreover, these chains “created a little bit of additional theater” around Halloween, said Wilson, demonstrated by intriguing in-store displays that captivated consumers.   

Dollar sales rose 3.8% in drug stores, along with almost 5% in unit growth. “In the final week before Halloween, the drug channel was very convenient when people were running low. People go to the drug channel to reload. They are very good at promoting and they follow through,” commented Wilson.  

Grocery stores posted respectable 3.4% growth, and “kept their foot on the gas to deliver significant volume,” Wilson said. 

For c-stores, Wilson said that sales opportunities at Halloween come more readily in the final week preceding October 31. “Imagine you ate a lot of the candy you already bought—the c-store is a destination for that last-minute shopping. So, single-pack items for countertop and secondary displays are paramount. Put it out in front to remind shoppers of the season. Those displays do tend to work in the c-store environment.”

In the context of creating the theater of the drug channel, it would serve c-stores well to demonstrate the same spirit, so to speak—albeit within a smaller store footprint. 

From an economic standpoint, the consumer price index (CPI) for the holiday season was relatively flat, gasoline prices indexed a little lower, the Dow Jones Industrial average trended higher and unemployment figures fell. Dampening these positives, though, was the fact that “some people remain under-employed, which can place a drag on sales,” said Wilson.

All in all, much excitement for Halloween confection was created around new items, as 42% of those polled said seeing new items aside traditional items “mixes it up and makes it more fun, so the need for variety and new items is particularly significant for the Halloween period,” said Wilson. Further, just 36% of consumers said they would consider a private-label brand over a major label, led by Target Market Pantry and CVS’s Gold Emblem.  

In looking ahead to next season, Wilson advised retailers to position themselves as a destination store—starting by placing candy items front and center. “Let shoppers know you are the destination. To get out ahead of the competition is based on planning, so get those new items alongside the traditional favorites. From a macro standpoint, value is important, but it’s not just price: it’s about the right price,” he said.

Halloween 2014 provides retailers with a golden opportunity to leverage Halloween merchandising even more: Halloween falls on a Friday, which means later hours for trick-or-treating and a host of parties that night by adults.

Halloween factoids, from the National Confectioners Association:

  • 62% of households share or “gift” chocolate on Halloween; 
  • 65% of people seek a good variety mix. Only 4% look at one type of candy, and health and nutrition during Halloween ranks low;
  • 72% of shoppers pick chocolate as their favorite; candy corn was second; 
  • 65% of shoppers prefer seasonal packaging and colors, and seek them out; 
  • 36% buy candy early and then “reload later.” Seventy percent buy candy early but tend to eat some prior to Halloween;  
  • 65% hand out one to two pieces per trick-or-treater, emphasizing portion control;  
  • 81% of parents confess to taking candy from their children’s candy haul; 
  • 40% buy candy online, with the core online shopper being 30-44 year olds.