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Candy makers create celebrations for a COVID-19 Halloween

According to a survey from consumer research software platform Suzy, the coronavirus pandemic is a primary reason why 82% of respondents intend to celebrate Halloween from home this year. While festivities may look different, it is clear that the holiday is not canceled for consumers or businesses. The National Confectioners Association launched its Halloween Central website to share safety protocols from experts as well as creative Halloween activities that follow these guidelines.

Even during an unprecedented time, consumers are still hungry for holiday celebrations. Candy companies and food retailers can capitalize on this excitement by promoting how its products can be incorporated into Halloween activities that avoid the spread of COVID-19.

What are consumers expecting this year?

The needs and desires of consumers for Halloween have changed as a result of the pandemic. What should companies do to meet these new expectations? Market analytics company Signals Analytics has evaluated 13,000 data sources to evaluate and identify some of the top Halloween trends in 2020.

“We are seeing a lot of emphasis on variety packs, resalable packaging and individually packaged product claims,” said Rigo Viezca, global head of fast-moving consumer goods at Signals Analytics. “Due to the pandemic, individually packaged products are proving as the most hygienic option for children.”

Another major trend this year is online candy purchases; while food e-commerce has been growing far before COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated consumers' online buying habits. Viezca added that because there are more online purchases, Signals believes that consumers will be able to see a wider variety of candy options to choose from.

“New products get lost in the shuffle and consumers gravitate to the newness of the category despite the most popular being highlighted online,” said Viezca. “Spotlights of up-and-coming brands and/or unique product attributes can help the retailers attract new buyers.”

Similar to general food trends in 2020, many people are seeking out healthier candy options, Viezca added. He noted that nut-free, vegan and organic Halloween candies are popular this year. 

COVID-19 Halloween celebrations go digital

Tim LeBel, Mars Wrigley’s chief Halloween officer and president of US Sales, shared that the company normally plans Halloween two years in advance, but this year plans obviously had to be adjusted when the pandemic hit the US. Product portfolios were streamlined while still introducing new seasonal offerings and offering flexible fun-sized options of candy.

Mars Wrigley also launched on Oct. 1 Treat Town, a free trick-or-treating app that allows family and friends to send and receive real Snickers and M&Ms candy products. The completely virtual experience is available through Halloween, and the company reports that the app has had more than 100,000 downloads across all 50 states.

“We wanted to ensure consumers have safe ways to celebrate Halloween no matter what it might look like for their families,” said LeBel. “While trick-or-treating is of course a major way we know consumers celebrate the holiday with our products, we also know this year will include new traditions, like at-home moments or smaller-scale celebrations.”

Chocolate producer Ferrero also went digital for this year’s Halloween marketing strategy with its “31 Days of Halloween” promotion. Users can shop for brands such as Butterfinger, Crunch and Nutella via pins on social media platform Pinterest, and Ferrero has tapped online influencers to share different ways to celebrate the holiday.

Hershey partnered with the Harvard Global Health Institute on its Halloween website displaying a color-coded map indicating COVID-19 cases across the US. The site offers different Halloween activities that are safe to participate in based on each color zone, such as modified trick or treating, trunk or treat, a costume party with limited guests and delivering Hershey’s Boo-Bags from CVS.

“We want to help people make informed choices, tailored to their local environment,” Harvard Global Health Institute infectious diseases expert Dr. Ingrid Katz told the Wall Street Journal.

These digital experiences have been key for both consumers and candy brands to stay connected during the pandemic. Because the campaigns are virtual, this can allow for real-time changes based on feedback to optimize user experiences.

“Treat Town is the first digital app experience like this for Mars Wrigley, so we’re excited to take learnings from this initiative—and we’ve gotten lots of quality consumer feedback—to potentially put toward different ideas for holidays in the future,” said LeBel.

Predictions for 2021

After speaking with retailers, Mars Wrigley identified three areas that may affect future Halloweens: economic concern, uncertainty about social gatherings, and e-commerce sales, according to LeBel. These are some of the reasons why aspects of this year’s Halloween may still be relevant in the future. Online purchases and experiences are likely to remain popular as consumers maintain safety guidelines during the pandemic.

Signals Analytics agreed that many of 2020’s Halloween trends have the potential to persist in 2021 and beyond. Coronavirus has highlighted the importance of healthy eating, but the trend isn’t exclusive to this pandemic. Consumers are likely to continue choosing healthier candy offerings during future Halloweens, said Viezca. Focusing on a different element of health, he also noted that individually packaged Halloween candies and snacks are beneficial as the most sanitary option for children. 

While a COVID-19 Halloween has caused many people to sacrifice typical celebrations and activities, the pandemic has shown how some new practices and experiences are likely to be valuable for future holiday festivities.

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