Three of the Top 10 Halloween most popular treats are from Mars Wrigley.
There’s the fun-size Snickers, the fun-size M&M’S, and of course, the variety bags — which were the No. 1 overall selling Halloween item last year.
That’s according to Tim LeBel, chief Halloween officer and president of sales, Mars Wrigley U.S.
He’s leading the company’s effort to save Halloween, which many expect to be impacted by COVID-19. While consumers are looking for a bright spot right now, questions remain about how safe trick-or-treating and other celebrations will be.
“While we know the holiday might look different — whether trick-or-treating happens or not, we want to be there for our consumers,” LeBel said.
With a company the size of Mars Wrigley, Halloween planning started two years ago, back before anyone even knew what COVID-19 meant.
Mars Wrigley realized it would have to make some changes after seeing the effects COVID-19 had on the other major U.S. holiday that’s been impacted by the pandemic.
“After assessing Easter sales, we brought together cross-functional teams to make sure that Mars Wrigley was offering consumers a variety of options across multiple scenarios to be able to celebrate Halloween the best way possible,” LeBel explained.
Mars Wrigley focused its efforts on three main areas:
Creating a fun, engaging and innovative Halloween digital, virtual experience
Partnering with nationwide and community organizations to launch new ways to celebrate Halloween safely this year
Giving back to local communities to ensure an inclusive experience for all
Treat Town app allows for virtual trick-or-treating
But it’s the digital Halloween experience that really makes Mars Wrigley stand out his year.
The company is launching “Treat Town,” a free, virtual app that allows users to virtually trick-or-treat with family and friends — and to receive actual candy. Specifically, users can send and receive candy credits that are redeemable for Mars Wrigley candy products at several national retailers both in-store and online.
It will be the world’s first-ever digital Halloween experience that – starting Oct. 1 – will kick off a month-long celebration of the “spooky season.”
Most notably, the app will feature the ability to create a personalized spooky avatar and a customized “house.” Users also can play interactive games, explore friends’ and families’ virtual homes to receive candy credits, and play fun tricks.
“We know that the season is going to look different this year and Treat Town is a way to create better moments by keeping Halloween traditions alive, and in some cases, enabling you to share them with broader family and friends virtually,” LeBel said.
While the pandemic pushed Mars Wrigley to launch the app this year, it was in works before that.
“We started to learn that Halloween [was] going to look different for people across the country, and we wanted to meet people where they are, providing a safe experience no matter how people choose to celebrate,” he said. “We gathered learnings from the pandemic to pivot the Halloween season and put our products where consumers are — while still ensuring we have omnichannel presence.”
In addition to the app, Mars Wrigley also is working with experts to provide parents and families with recommendations on how to celebrate the season in the safest way possible, including collaborating with the National Safety Council, among others to be announced.
Retail strategy focuses on changing shopping patterns
Mars Wrigley also has adjusted its Halloween retail strategy in response to COVID-19.
“Beginning in April we began having conversations with our retailers on how we anticipated the season to be impacted,” LeBel said. “We used the data of what we knew from Easter, data from what was happening in the world outside of us, and what we knew about changing shopping patterns to make sure the right products were available in the right places for our consumers.”
Specifically, the company shifted its plans with its retailers, focusing on data in three key areas to help them make decisions: economic concern, uncertainty about social gatherings, and the shift to online.
“These areas have guided the ongoing conversations and decisions we’ve been making with retailers,” LeBel said.
Mars Wrigley has also streamlined its seasonal portfolio to focus on consumers’ favorite Halloween items and top sellers such as M&M'S, Snickers and the variety packs.
“We're offering new pack types and products this year for the season,” LeBel said. “Our everyday favorites will also be widely available in multiple pack types, like fun-size, to account for flexible celebrations this year. Whether that's trick or treating on Oct. 31, or micro moments throughout the month with treats at home.”
However, Mars has also launched some new products, like M&M'S Chocolate Popcorn and M&M'S Creepy Cocoa Crisp. And it brought back favorites like Zombie Skittles and M&M’S Ghoul Mix.
Halloween product launch planning starts about two years before the actual holidays, though, so Mars Wrigley’s timelines for putting candy on store shelves were not impacted by COVID-19. And like other years, Halloween candy has been on shelves since August.
Planning for the winter holidays
Of course, once Mars Wrigley gets past Halloween, the winter holidays are just around the corner. It remains unclear how those will be impacted by COVID-19.
“As of right now, we are currently focusing on Halloween, but we will assess future digital experiences based on how the pandemic continues and consumer response to Treat Town,” LeBel said.
He added that the company continues to assess data and feedback from retailers and consumers, and it will make decisions based on those insights to meet consumers where they are in the coming months.
“Mars Wrigley has operated through many times of crisis – world wars, depressions and recessions,” LeBel said. “This company is resilient and experienced in weathering storms.”