Snickers and Mars candy bars, produced by Mars Inc., sit on display.
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For 11 months of the year, Tim LeBel is Mars Wrigley’s president of sales. But for the month of October, he dons a new title: chief Halloween officer.
For decades, the fall holiday has been the biggest day of the year for candy makers. In recent years, Halloween has also stretched to become a three-month season for Mars and rivals such as Hershey, Ferrero and Mondelez, and the retailers who stock their candy.
The National Retail Federation predicts consumers will spend $3.6 billion on Halloween candy this year, up from $3.1 billion last year, even as many shoppers pull back spending elsewhere.
“We know that during difficult economic times, consumers are particularly interested in enjoying kind of the simple things in life … like Halloween,” Hershey CEO Michele Buck told investors in July on the company’s quarterly conference call.
Unlike Hershey, family-owned Mars doesn’t report its financial results, but disclosed nearly $45 billion in annual revenue in 2021. While best known for a candy portfolio that includes M&M’s, Snickers, Three Musketeers and Twix, Mars also makes ice cream, chewing gum and pet food.
With the stakes so high for Halloween, Mars starts planning for the holiday two years in advance. LeBel said he sits down with key retailers to discuss trends across flavors, packaging and sustainability.
“A lot of those things take two years to develop and execute to bring to market,” LeBel told CNBC. “So the things we looked at in 2021, you’re starting to see this year in 2023.”
Tim LeBel, Mars Wrigley’s president of sales.
Source: Mars Wrigley
That’s phase one of planning. The next stage happens in the three weeks of November after last Halloween. Mars once again sits down with retailers, this time for a post mortem on its candies’ performance.
“What items did we not make enough of? What items maybe went off trend?” LeBel said.
This year, Mars has a couple of tricks up its sleeve, such as Skittles Shriekers. Each bag includes classic Skittles with a few sour-flavored ones that look the same as the rest of the bag.
The company is also leaning into online shopping. Last year, roughly a third of consumers bought Halloween items online. This year, Mars has teamed up with digital convenience store goPuff to make sure everyone has enough candy to pass out on Halloween. Consumers whose stash is running low can visit MarsWrigleyHalloween.com and receive a delivery of a free backup supply of Mars candy in under an hour in participating locations, while supplies last.
But Mars’ Halloween plans will always include the classics, such as its Snickers bars, which are the second best-selling Halloween candy, trailing only Hershey’s Reese’s cups. Three of Mars’ variety bags cracked the top 10 for most popular assortments, according to the company.
Retailers’ insights may lead Mars to pivot its plans for the next Halloween season, which starts just nine months later, before temperatures cool and pumpkin spice lattes return to Starbucks’ menu.
“[Retailers] realize that having our portfolio on display from August through October captures multiple consumer occasions,” LeBel said.
Those moments include picking up a variety pack of candy during back-to-school shopping, snacking during spooky movie nights and the all-important trick-or-treating on Halloween.
Still, 48% of Halloween candy sales happen during the last week of October, according to LeBel. Those last-minute shoppers mean that candy manufacturers and retailers need to be ready to meet that demand.
All of Mars’ planning has paid off this year. The company exceeded its production targets this Halloween season.
“I actually still have some in our warehouses, ready to ship,” LeBel said.