It’s 2020. Time is meaningless now. There are no rules anymore.
While it’s only Aug. 12, my entire house is already decorated for fall. Pumpkins in the entryway and leaf lights on the mantle. And Halloween, although technically 80 days away, is already on everyone’s mind.
A quick Google News search for “Halloween” comes back with a long list of articles speculating on how the holiday will look this year as COVID-19 continues to impact every aspect of our lives.
Virginia-based 13 News Now asks, “Is Halloween canceled this year?” While the St. Louis Dispatch tells its readers, “Trick-or-treating in doubt this year.” And the Boston Business Journal assures its audience, “Halloween will look different this year, and that’s OK.”
I have four nieces and nephews under 7 years old, and Halloween has become one of my favorite holidays in recent years. I dress up, head to their house, paint their faces to look like skeletons and hold their hands as we all walk door-to-door in their neighborhood.
But honestly, it’s hard to imagine that a country navigating a pandemic is going to send all its children to collect candy from a bunch of strangers this year.
We’re based in northern Illinois, and as of right now, many of the local schools will be starting the year with remote learning. If school is not safe, how could trick-or-treating be?
And how will that impact the confectionery industry?
“The Halloween season (i.e., the eight weeks leading up to Oct. 31) accounts for about $4.6 billion in confectionery sales each year,” says the National Confectioners Association.
Hershey also recently revealed that Halloween is its biggest season, accounting for 10 percent of its annual sales. And half of the Halloween sales are driven by trick-or-treaters.
The good news is that the NCA says Americans are looking forward to Halloween this year. In a poll conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NCA, 74 percent of Millennial moms and young parents say that Halloween is more important than ever this year.
"Consumers report that they will be getting creative throughout the month of October to make sure that they can stay safe and still enjoy the Halloween season," said John Downs, president and CEO of the NCA. "The results of our research reveal a deeply rooted enthusiasm for Halloween, even if it means that people have to rethink their approach this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic."
And Hershey also is optimistic about the holiday.
“It is an outdoor event, and it’s an event where a lot of masks are already worn,” said Hershey Chairman and CEO Michele Buck. “There’s 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. But if trick-or-treat tends to be a little lower than expectation, clearly, we’ll focus even more on the ‘treat for me’ and the ‘candy bowl’ occasion.”
I too am hopeful that I’ll find ways to celebrate Halloween with my nieces and nephews this year — but FaceTime is looking more and more like the only safe option. And sadly, you still can’t send candy via FaceTime.
The confectionery industry has proven itself to be relatively recession-proof — but over the next few months of holidays, we’re also going to learn how pandemic-proof it is.
If candy is meant to be shared, what will that sharing look like if people are still social distancing the rest of 2020?
Winter holidays are known for large gatherings and lots of travel — both of which are likely to be greatly reduced this year. And they are also traditionally big business for the confectionery industry. In 2019, accounted for $4.5 billion in sales for the confectionery industry, according to the NCA’s “Sweet Insights: State of Treating 2020” report.
How much of that is purchased on the way to parties or events? How much of that is traditionally given as in-person gifts? How much of that is meant for hors d'oeuvres tables?
The same NCA “State of Treating” report says 78 percent of Americans believe sharing and gifting candy is a great American and/or family tradition, while 74 percent of Americans believe that a treat is always sweeter when shared with a friend.
In addition, 9 in 10 consumers celebrate the “big four” seasons by gifting chocolate and candy. The big four being Valentines’ Day, Easter, Halloween and winter holidays.
Like Halloween, I expect most people will look for ways to celebrate winter holidays safely. And of course, I hope that by then the pandemic is under control to the point that we aren’t even worried about hosting family parties.
But it’s probably wise for candy companies to focus resources on direct-to-consumer online sales and “treat for me” candy sales, as Hershey calls it.
And hopefully 2021’s New Year’s will actually bring health, wealth and happiness for us this time.