The Frost is on the Pumpkin - © typepad.com

Sunday Musings: Hallowe’en Back or Gone For Good?

I ask this ‘social studies’ question in a food blog because Hallowe’en is coming on apace and most of the candy and snack makers have already flooded the stores with their wares. Will the October 31 ‘holiday’ pass as it used to, before COVID-19? Or will it remain a ghost of the past?

Hershey 488 box - © 2021 Hershey's

When I was a little kid (say, 10 years old) Hallowe’en was a welcome break from the drudgery of the long, cold, dank autumn days. Kids (and parents, too) started preparing for the night of spooks and goblins days or even weeks in advance, making costumes, planning parties and, of course, deciding what seasonal goodies to get for the Trick-or-Treaters.

Last year, during the first COVID-19 Hallowe’en, no kids came to the door at all, for the first time in my life. I expected it, and so did all the folks in the neighbourhood. Ours is tight little community of empty nesters, retired folks and just a few young families. Nevertheless, we used to get around 50 kids between sundown (when the tots came round with their parents) to around 9 p.m., when the older-kid traffic finally tapered off. Given the pandemic, we expected a reduced demand for treats. But we were expecting to see at least a few kids costumed as doctors or nurses, dutifully wearing their masks. Alas! No eerie presence deigned to darken our doorstep.

As a result, we were left with almost 100 single-serving-sized bags of Potato Chips to deal with. We ate a few ourselves – and I created a special post suggesting ways to use up leftover Hallowe’en chips.

So, what happens next?

I can’t decide whether Hallowe’en is going to come roaring back as a raucous mid-fall celebration or just lie in its grave, like Dracula at noon. Frankly, I enjoyed a quiet evening last Hallowe’en – for a change. But I wondered if we’d seen the last of Trick or Treaters? Forever?

One camp holds that the kids will be back as usual this fall, albeit observing COVID safety precautions. I guess the theory is, it’s pretty hard to kill a vampire or a werewolf. But, with the Delta Variant hanging around, still causing havoc in certain U.S. states, and the debate about booster shots still in high gear, I suspect this coming Hallowe’en will unfold much as last year’s did.

I’ve pretty much decided to sit this one out, with the porch light off. And we’ll see, once the pandemic is really under control, or – we can only hope – gone for good, whether the observance will ever make a come back.

Implications for the industry

The salty snacks and candy industries last year reported a major downturn in Hallowe’en sales. The lead-up to October 31 has historically been one of their most profitable seasons, even more so than Vanentine’s or Mothers’ Day. Spokespeople for the major players, such as Hershey’s, Nestlé, Cadbury or Lays, didn’t admit that the sales fall-off had come anywhere close to crippling, much less killing them. But they limped away on Novermber 1 hurting.

I’m curious to see what another ‘dead’ Hallowe’en will do to them.

Some indications

Over the past few weeks, starting back in August, actually, we’ve seen a number of early and noisy announcements from snack and candy brands trying to whip up enthusiasm for their products – as if there was no COVID, and the world was back to ‘normal’. But it’s impossible to miss the tone of desperation in their their ads. They seem to be trying to convince us to ‘Party like its 2019’!

One of the most desperate and overindulgent products floated specially for Hallowe’en is a huge steamer trunk full of Hershey’s brands’ products including brands such as Kit Kat, Rolo, Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey Kisses, Jolly Ranchers, and Twizzlers. Combo packs of bite-sized candies are no big innovation for Hallowe’en. But this deal contains 488 pieces of sweet goodies and weighs in at over 6 lb. / just under 3 kg. The price is an amazingly attractive (US)$29.98. Compare that to the average individual price of a mini chocolate bar – around $0.30. Times 488, that’s ‘a $146. value’.

So, what’s the game?

The logical, plain-faced answer is, they had warehouses full of minis left over last year and simply poured them into new, big boxes – hoping nobody would notice the relatively-stale Best Before Dates.

The British website approvedfood.co.uk says most chocolate bars are still safe to eat (though they may look or taste a little ‘off’) as much as 5 – 8 months after their Best Before Dates. And plain Dark Chocolate is good for 2 – 3 years. Hershey’s says its Kisses (solid Chocolate) are Best Before 11 months post production. But its Peanut Butter Cups are only Best Before 4 – 6 months after packaging. Even so, the 2020-batch Cups and the Kisses are both within their unofficial ‘okay’ dates.

The question is, would Hershey’s (or any other candy maker) risk selling last year’s confections when they might look or taste ‘off’? The buyers of the 488-piece mega box would not know; the pieces are all sealed in indivdual wrappers. And when a kid’s candy haul gets home, and they’re all mixed up with other treats, who’s to say which house(s) the stale one(s) came from ? Just spitballing, here…

Anyway

In reference to the scenario posited under the precious subhead: I am not a conspiracy theorist. But I do know that in business – especially big business, where the stakes can be stratospheric – decisions are not always made based on what’s right. They may be made based on what’s cheapest and easiest. And, sometimes, on what’s just barely legal. Of course, a global giant like Hershey’s would never do such a thing. I’m just using their 488-piece monster assortment to illustrate what other, unscrupulous operators might do.

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.