The evenings might be getting darker, but the prospects for profit are bright. Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski explains how to make the most of the upcoming Halloween season
Halloween is big and getting bigger. Like a Godzilla tearing up and overshadowing all other autumn events, it is now worth £1.2bn to retailers in the UK, according to Kantar data. And – like a gruesome zombie – suppliers, retailers and on-the-ball wholesalers are all waking up to the opportunity that this presents their businesses with.
Indeed, with restrictions on selling fireworks now putting all but the most committed retailers off Bonfire Night, Halloween is now the obvious focus for boosting autumnal sales. Add to this the rise of Netflix series Stranger Things, the return of the Ghostbusters films, and countless other supernatural-focused franchises and it seems like our culture is helping to drive this trend forward.
Suppliers certainly think so. Dan Newell, confectionery portfolio director for Mars Wrigley Confectionery, believes watching a Halloween film has even become a ritual for many families as the event approaches: “Around 31% of consumers watched a scary movie at home last year across the Halloween period, presenting a huge opportunity for retailers to stock a range of sharing bag treats, perfect for a ‘big night in’ occasion,” he says. “Many families see it as an opportunity to treat themselves with chocolate and fruit confectionery sharing bags.”
The company’s More to Share format extends across its big brands, including Minstrels, M&M’s, Skittles and Starburst, and Newell expects Mars Wrigley to drive £6m in sales during the period. This will be helped this year by the inclusion of Skittles Darkside in the range – a dark fruits medley that the company describes as “perfect” for trick-or-treating.
Mars Wrigley Confectionery is by no means the only supplier to notice the huge potential for growing sales around Halloween, and the same opportunities exist for anyone who can inspire their retailer customers to get involved.
The challenges for independents need to be emphasised, however; supermarkets will be taking their chunk of the Halloween market, as will discounters.
The fright price
When it comes to buying in stock, many stores will have no loyalty for wholesalers from whom they have previously stocked up on Halloween essentials.
Bay Bashir, who owns a number of Lifestyle Express stores in Middlesbrough, will search for the best prices in his area. “I will only go to the wholesalers I used last year as a last resort,” he says.
Bashir knows confectionery margins are limited in his area, too, so he will be focusing on fancy dress and decorations to make this event as profitable as can be.
His store is in a deprived area in which customers focus on value, but even in other areas there are challenges brought by the supermarkets. Kate Clark, who runs Sean’s News in Upton-upon-Severn in Worcestershire, knows her range needs to stand out, so she will visit Hancocks for specialist chocolates that nearby multiples will not be stocking. With an in-store chocolate counter helping her business build a reputation as a destination during major occasions, Clark supplements this with premium chocolates from supplier Sarunds, which offers a range that can provide the store with margins of up to 70%.
With retailers looking around for a bargain or the stand-out range that will help them profit, what can independent wholesalers do?
Fortunately, there is a huge amount of supplier activity designed to provide the levels of excitement necessary to capitalise on Halloween.
Mondelez is bringing its Goo Heads range – in sharing ‘mini’ and self-treat formats – to wholesale this year. Susan Nash, trade communications manager at Mondelez, says her company’s strategy is to get customers enthused about Halloween. She hopes that wholesalers will – like retailers – use display to attract sell-through.
While trick-or-treat dominates many people’s ideas of Halloween, that does not limit some brands’ ambitions. Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), for example, wants to place Fanta right at the heart of the event. “Like Coca-Cola is to Christmas, Fanta is to Halloween,” says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at CCEP.
According to Nielsen data, the brand is a “key driver of soft drinks growth during the four-week Halloween period”, with soft drinks sales in general up 3.7% during Halloween last year and Fanta up 26%. Burgess says much of this growth can be credited to the success of Fanta Zero.
As with confectionery brands, CCEP is investing in activity that will get customers enthused about Halloween this year with a multi-million-pound campaign which includes on-bottle graphics from artist Noma Bar, and an award-winning on-pack promotion with social media app Snapchat.
Burgess says: “We are also unveiling the spooktacular winning flavours of our Fanta Flavour Election, a campaign that kicked off in April 2018. After months of deliberation and more than 150,000 votes, Fanta Blood Orange Zero and Fanta Pink Grapefruit Zero were named the winners and will be joining the brand’s portfolio for Halloween, available in 500ml, 2l and can formats.
“Both varieties are Soft Drinks Industry Levy-exempt and are naturally flavoured, containing no sugar or calories. The Blood Orange Zero will also be available in a limited- edition 6x250ml pack format with Halloween pumpkin graphics, available in selected outlets.”
Who scares wins
Swizzels is another company that is getting on board with the occasion.
Mark Walker, sales director at Swizzels, says: “We will be supporting our Halloween range with an exciting ‘Halloween Sorted’ campaign across our website and social platforms.
“We are planning spooky competitions, frightfully fun activities, revolting recipes, terrifying trick-or-treat tips and lots more. With themed confectionery, wholesalers should look to create some theatre with in-depot displays.”
The company’s range for 2018 includes a focus on larger formats, including the 420g Treat Time tub and the Loadsa sharing bag portfolio.
While they are encouraged to join their customers in getting into the spirit of the season, retailers are advised that over-buying may lead to stock hanging about long after the ghouls have fled.
“Wholesalers should consider offering themed and un-themed confectionery during the Halloween & Bonfire Night period, as some smaller retailers choose to avoid themed confectionery to prevent residual stock,” says Walker.
“Un-themed variety bags, such as Swizzels’ Loadsa range, are ideal to stock all year round, and perfect for seasonal sharing occasions.”
While young shoppers have trick-or-treating to get them excited for Halloween, alcohol brands know this is also an important time for parties. There are trends that will make this season different from others, particularly the current rise of US-inspired flavours, whether in confectionery or savoury items.
Diageo’s Baileys brand manager, Clare Patterson, describes the pumpkin trend as “a Stateside staple” worth over $300m (£230.5m) in the US in recent years.
The trend matches Booker Wholesale’s recent decision to recommend its Londis retailers stock a full-bay range of US chocolate brands.
The opportunities are seemingly huge for those of you who decide to embrace the Halloween trend – filling your depots with an equal amount of excitement and big brand point-of-sale material.
But perhaps it is those of you who can cater to the likes of Hitesh Pandya, of Toni’s News in Ramsgate, who will profit best. He says: “I would like the bigger wholesalers to offer a full display range that retailers can buy in one, nice and early, using their buying power to keep prices down.”
It is a challenge you have got a few weeks to meet.
Head of trade communications,
“Halloween is worth £1.2bn in the UK and wholesalers can play a really important role in getting independent retailers their share of this.
“The sharing occasion offers the biggest opportunity to retailers at Halloween – catering to those throwing Halloween parties, having a Halloween night in or stocking up for trick-or-treaters.
“Retailers should take advantage of this by placing sharing bags in hotspots across their store and this advice can be demonstrated through great displays in highly visible locations in wholesalers’ depots.”
“With the likes of Wilko and the supermarkets offering Halloween-themed confectionery, I have noticed availability falling in the wholesale market in recent years. I would like wholesalers to offer a full display range that retailers can buy in one, nice and early, using their buying power to keep prices down.”
“We no longer sell fireworks but make more margins from fancy dress for Halloween. None of our normal wholesalers stock it, so we are forced to shop around. With everything we stock, we try and hunt out the best deals first and go back to where we went last year
if we are struggling.”
“Point-of-sale material is really important with anything we buy in as we want to create excitement. A lot of packaging goes straight in the bin, so maybe we could get cut-outs that we could then put up around the store? As well as large-format sweets, pumpkins and local cupcakes are big sellers.”
“We go to Hancocks for our Halloween range because we will always get something different. We will then look at Sarunds Chocolate, as it tends to have something more premium and we can get margins of 60% to 70%. We cannot compete like-for-like with the massive supermarkets, so specialist items are vital.”