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Sept. 14, 2020, 9:56 a.m. EDT

Halloween in the time of the coronavirus — families are going bigger and starting earlier

Seasonal candy hit store shelves in July, while baking at home is ramping up

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By Chuck Raup

AFP via Getty Images

A grassroots social-media and merchandising trend emerged in recent weeks, with posts and T-shirts saying: “Save Halloween, wear a mask.”

The point was clear: The coronavirus pandemic has robbed us of so much fun stuff — from parties, to sports, to music concerts and much more — you might feel a sense of dread. Is Halloween 2020 at risk, too?

Given how the year has gone so far, it’s understandable that kids and families would begin to think that Halloween might end up becoming a ghoulish shadow of its normal self.

The good news, based on all the early evidence we’re seeing, is that they’d be wrong. Americans — around 70% celebrate Halloween — are showing no signs of letting the pandemic dampen the fun and fantasy of the occasion. In fact, there are signs that many families may go bigger — and start earlier — than before in an effort to create fun and normalcy for the kids.

For example, a recent poll commissioned by the National Confectioners Association found that 74% of millennial moms believe Halloween is more important than ever this year.

New rules

Certainly, the trick-or-treat finale to Halloween season is going to have new precautions in place as communities and families tweak the tradition to follow social distancing rules. In fact, the CDC issues health and safety guidelines for trick-or-treat every year, and of course in a pandemic, this will be a critical piece of the holiday.

But one thing that is known in the candy business (and probably many Americans know this too, because we all eat the Halloween candy long before trick-or-treaters come knocking) is that trick-or-treat is actually a fraction of the whole season. Half of all Halloween candy sales take place before the last two weeks of October.

Traditionally, half of Halloween occurs in the home and it begins as early as August. That’s when people start shopping for costumes, decorations and treats, and step up home-based activities like crafting, baking and setting out candy bowls.

Early start

This is why we can already see it in the data: Halloween appears to be starting earlier than usual. Retailers are carrying themed candy on shelves earlier. In July, our sales of Halloween-themed candy were up 6.1% from a year earlier due to this earlier start.

I know in our house we have our decorations ready to go and the boys are finalizing their costumes: With sharks, NFL players and Minecraft characters. We are also looking forward to baking monster cupcakes to drop off at our neighbors’ doors.

We apparently aren’t alone, with kids having been stuck at home and school openings looking highly uncertain in most of the country, there’s likely to be more, and earlier, home-based Halloween activities than normal as a way for parents to occupy and engage their children.

Baking at home

This extends a months-long trend back to home traditions. Some 48% of consumers are baking more at home, according to a recent Numerator survey, with 22% expecting that to continue after the pandemic.

Google searches bear this out as well, with “Covid-19 Halloween” emerging as a new term, with queries having begun as early as February 2020. Another big one is “Covid Halloween Masks.”

For another sense of the trajectory of Halloween, look back at Easter, right in the thick of the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns and home quarantines. Easter egg hunts across the country were canceled and a full third of people surveyed beforehand said they weren’t going to take part in the celebration.

In fact, only 16% of respondents ended up sitting out Easter. Candy sales were only down 7% from the previous Easter, as consumers turned to online grocery options, including click-and-collect, and came up with creative ways to regain a sense of normalcy and celebration with their families.

We will see the same interest in fun and tradition again. Creativity will rise the occasion, too. Just search Pinterest to see the ideas for social distance Halloween ideas.

So, the holiday is on, and only one question remains: What are you going to be for Halloween?

Chuck Raup is the U.S. president for Hershey.

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