Despite the pandemic, consumers are still seeing Halloween candy hit store shelves earlier this year in some parts of the country, if not as much at some of Florida’s leading grocers.
Nationally, retailers are looking to extend the shopping season as trick-or-treating is anticipated to decline this year due to COVID-19 and it’s potential to tamp down trick-or-treating, a trend first reported by CNN.
Hershey’s told the Tampa Bay Times that retailers moved their Halloween candy sales earlier by about two to three weeks in August this year, but that the pandemic hadn’t affected their normal 10-week season of sales.
“These trends are by retailer and not state specific,” Alex Corcoran, senior director of occasions and partnerships for Hershey’s, said in an emailed statement to the Tampa Bay Times.
Mars Wrigley said certain retailers began carrying its Halloween candy in early August and that its timeline was not impacted by COVID-19 either.
In Florida, retailers have said they mostly plan to release Halloween candy on their normal schedule in September. While trick-or-treating may decrease this year with COVID-19, shoppers have developed a sweet tooth seeking comfort foods during the pandemic that may offset the decline.
Southeastern Grocers, which owns Winn Dixie, said Halloween candy hit shelves Friday. Meanwhile, Publix spokesperson Maria Brous said that Florida shoppers can expect to see their Halloween favorites starting in mid-September, the store’s “traditional timeframe” for stocking its shelves with holiday sweets.
“While we recognize that traditions may be different for families and consumers this year, we also want to provide our customers with the items they are looking for,” Brous said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “Candy is synonymous with Halloween, as well as a favorite all year long.”
Target said its Halloween merchandising is following a similar timeline, with displays going up in September, the company’s normal timeline. The same holds true for Walmart, although the company did begin releasing other Halloween products in early August, which it said was on course with its release dates from last year.
Last year, the National Retail Federation anticipated consumers would spend about $8.8 billion on Halloween.
Scott Shalley, president and CEO of Florida Retail Federation, encouraged shoppers to support local businesses this year in their shopping.
“No one’s disappointed to see Halloween candy, decorations and costumes popping up on store shelves early this year,” he said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s been a difficult year for many Florida families and Florida retail stores, but Halloween festivities give us all something to look forward to and hope for.”
University of South Florida marketing professor Dipayan Biswas said there has been a trend of companies pushing holiday sales earlier and earlier for several years, in order to win a slightly larger portion of customers than their competitors. However, that strategy quickly turns into a “zero sum game.”
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While many companies, especially in the hospitality sector, have taken hits during the pandemic, Biswas said some companies are actually doing better this time of year than last year. In particular, chocolate, candy and cookie sales have increased year-over-year.
“People are indulging more,” he said.
Florida consumers’ candy purchases are up slightly from last year, according to data from St. Petersburg-based marketing firm Catalina. For the week of Aug. 22, stores’ candy sales in dollars were up two percent, while consumers’ dollars spent on candy per trip were up 16 percent compared to a similar time frame last year.
Hershey’s said it has also seen an increase in revenue.
“Over the last 4 weeks, our retail takeaway at measured channels is up +27.2% versus this time last year,” Corcoran said.
Jane Rakestraw, owner of Schakolad Chocolate Factory in St. Petersburg, said while the company’s sales dipped at the beginning of the pandemic, she said the store has seen sustained business lately.
“It hasn’t impacted us as much,” she said of the pandemic.
Around Halloween each year, the store makes lollipops and seasonal gift baskets as well as jack-o-lantern and tombstone-shaped sweets. While normally the store would start producing these products in early September, Rakestraw said the company started making these items a few weeks ago. As many people work from home, they’re more likely to want sweets and have time for online shopping, she said.
“We’re just doing things earlier because we think people have more time on their hands,” Rakestraw said.
Not all sweet shops are jump-starting their Halloween merchandising, however. William Brown, head of William Dean Chocolates in Belleair Bluffs, said normally the store makes special themed chocolate boxes around the holiday.
“We won’t be doing that probably for a month or so,” he said.
Because the store specializes in high-end sweets, the chocolate shop doesn’t anticipate a significant impact to its Halloween-based sales. However, that’s not to say the pandemic’s impact on holidays won’t reach the store in other ways.
“What we’re really concerned about is Christmas season,” Brown said.
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