Halloween is just four days away, but Ferrero says early indicators point toward a strong season.

Phil DeConto, v.p. customer marketing, Ferrero USA, notes that with available vaccines and people becoming accustomed to taking safety precautions, families are looking forward to returning to Halloween traditions.

DeConto recently spoke to Candy Industry about the company’s approach to Halloween, its expectation for the season, and what’s next for the winter holidays.

CI: Generally speaking, how would you describe pre-Halloween sales this year?

PD: The signs are very good for a strong Halloween season for the sweets industry. The category is up 7.3 percent in the four-week period ending Oct. 10 (IRI), and Ferrero's everyday chocolate portfolio — which includes Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and CRUNCH — is nearly doubling that at 13.6 percent.

CI: How would you describe Ferrero’s approach to developing Halloween product offerings for this year?

PD: With the confidence going into this season, Ferrero brands leaned into fun, Halloween-themed packaging and concepts — for instance, Butterfinger Zombie Eyeballs and CRUNCH Monster Eyeballs. And of course Kinder Joy has new Halloween-themed toys, this time limited-edition mix-and-match characters.

CI: Did Halloween 2020 have an impact on how Ferrero approached this Halloween? If so, how?

PD: Going into Halloween 2020, we were confident that Americans would find creative ways to celebrate and that candy would be central to those celebrations. We ended up being right. Sales for that season were great. We know that this year, with so many Americans vaccinated and used to safety precautions, families are going to be eager to make this Halloween one to remember.

CI: How do you expect trick-or-treating to go this year?

PD: It’s looking like trick-or-treating is back. Guidance from the CDC says that trick-or-treating outside this year should be safe, and according to an NCA survey, over 80 percent of Americans plan to trick-or-treat.

CI: Are consumers mostly buying candy in brick-and-mortar stores before the holiday? Or are you seeing pre-Halloween online sales of bigger pack sizes?

PD: Both! Halloween shopping seems to be coming back to the store aisles now that vaccines are in place and consumers are more used to safety measures. Brick-and-mortar sales are up 8.6 percent for the chocolate category in the four-week period ending Oct. 10, and up 14.4 percent for Ferrero (IRI). Meanwhile, we continue to see growth of online chocolate sales in 2021 that builds on the strong 2020 ecommerce trend.

CI: How can seasonal packaging help drive sales?

PD: Consumers and retailers are getting back into the spirit with more Halloween-themed treats. Chocolate featuring seasonal packaging – pumpkins, ghosts, monsters, etc. – is up 34 percent in the four-week period ending Oct. 10, versus 2 percent for everyday packaging (IRI). In the uncertainty of last year's season, retailers prioritized everyday packaging and consumers scooped up large quantities early in the season. Now we're seeing a return to purchases throughout the season and a boost in enthusiasm.

CI: Looking ahead to the winter holidays, are there any seasonal insights Ferrero has gained over the last couple years that it plans to apply to the upcoming holiday season?

PD: Most major holiday moments during the pandemic have seen strong confections sales as people look to treats to create some normalcy and joy around special moments. Over the past couple years, brands and retailers also have been setting the season earlier, which has a number of benefits. It reminds shoppers that the season is coming and educates them about the products available, allows for early purchase and consumption leading to re-purchase, and smooths performance across the whole season, taking risk out of the final week and any potential hiccups that could arise.

We’re also seeing premium products continue to be the growth drivers in their categories through the pandemic, and that shoppers know the difference between introductory and top-tier brands. In the premium chocolate category, top-tier brands like Ferrero Rocher are outpacing introductory brands across different pack types, occasions, and seasons. This is important at times like the holidays when shoppers want to seem generous to their friends and family.