Halloween is just over six weeks away, and the question we’re all asking still remains: What will it look like this year?

Some say children and families could use the fun and joy trick-or-treating brings after navigating at-home learning and the other challenges this year has presented. Others say Halloween celebrations can and should still occur, but only in ways that don’t require going door-to-door or being around large groups of people. 

Data from the National Retail Federation, in partnership with Prosper Insights & Analytics, show Halloween participation won’t completely duplicate past years, but many U.S. consumers will find ways to enjoy the sweet and spooky holiday.

“Consumers continue to place importance on celebrating our traditional holidays, even if by untraditional standards,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retailers are prepared to meet the increased demand for seasonal décor, costumes and other items that allow families the opportunity to observe Halloween safely.”

Fifty-eight percent of consumers are expected to celebrate Halloween this year, according to a survey of 7,644 respondents conducted Sept. 1-9. That’s down from the 68 percent projected in 2019.

Total consumer spending is expected to reach just over $8 billion, down from 2019’s total of $8.78 billion. Spending on candy is projected to dip from $2.6 billion last year to $2.4 billion this year, while spending on costumes is set to drop from $3.2 billion to $2.6 billion.

However, average per-person spending is expected to increase from $86.27 in 2019 to $92.12 in 2020, thanks to consumers shelling out a little more for candy, decorations and greeting cards. Per-person spending on candy is set to increase from $25.37 to $27.55, while per-person spending on decorations is expected to grow from $26.03 to $29.63. Spending on greeting cards is set to increase from $3.82 to $5.03.

Meanwhile, average per-person spending on costumes is expected to drop from $31.05 in 2019 to $29.90.

Projected changes in participation in classic Halloween traditions also illustrate the impact COVID-19 could have on the holiday, as consumers report they’ll lean toward activities that can be held at home:

Percent of U.S. consumers expected to participate in Halloween activities: NRF
Activity 2019 2020
Dress in costume 47 46
Dress pets in costume 17 18
Throw/attend a party 32 22
Hand out candy 69 62
Carve a pumpkin 44 46
Visit a haunted house 22 15
Trick-or-treating 29 23
Decorate your home 49 53

Given the different ways consumers are expected to celebrate, how are major candy manufacturers coping with the uncertainty around Halloween?

Tim LeBel, chief Halloween officer and president of sales for Mars Wrigley U.S., told Candy Industry the company has introduced a variety of pack sizes to accommodate all types of celebrations. The company also launched Treat Town, a free app that allows consumers to trick-or-treat virtually.

The Hershey Co. recently told the Wall Street Journal it varied its candy offerings this year and released them a few weeks earlier in hopes of snagging pre-season sales. Hershey also pointed to its support of the Halloween and Costume Association’s interactive map illustrating the COVID-19 risk in each U.S. county. The association offers ideas for safe celebrations depending on the level of risk.

Next month Ferrero will launch the “31 Days of Halloween” program. Throughout October, Ferrero will share Halloween ideas, including recipes, DIY projects and other surprises, on Pinterest and through influencer partners. Shoppable pins for each brand will make it easy for fans to order what they need.

This week, American Licorice Co. introduced the Boo Box, a collaboration between its Red Vines and Sour Punch brands and Jelly Belly, Goetze’s Candy and Spangler Candy. The box, which consumers can order on American Licorice’s website, features candy from each of the brands.

Additionally, the National Confectioners Association (NCA) has been encouraging careful Halloween celebrations, recently citing its own September survey indicating 80 percent of adults believe the holiday can be observed creatively and safely.

“Across the country, this Halloween will look a little different for many people,” the NCA said in response to LA County’s ban on trick-or-treating, which has since been walked back. “Whether this means socially distanced trick-or-treating, more candy bowl moments at home with family and close friends, or just more time celebrating the season throughout the month of October, one thing is for sure — Halloween is happening.”

This year hasn’t been easy for anyone, including for those in the confectionery industry. And no matter how Halloween turns out, it’s important to commend the flexibility and nimbleness the candy industry has shown, from getting business done through virtual trade shows and video meetings, to exploring digital retail options and mixing up product offerings and pack sizes.

Despite the difficulty the industry has faced — and any difficulty that still lays ahead — we know it will continue to sweeten consumers’ lives every day, through Halloween and beyond.