Halloween is the biggest season of the year for Mars Wrigley, maker of Snickers, Twix, M&M's, and Skittles, but that's even more true this year. After a blockbuster 2021, the candy maker is pulling out all the stops to make sure it maximizes business this spooky season.
"This is a very important time of year for us, so we prioritized our supply chain, our resources, and our associates, all in the service of the consumers," said Tim LeBel, Mars Wrigley’s chief Halloween officer and president of sales for North America. "There has been a lot of uncertainty over the past few years, but I would say Halloween and trick-or-treating are fully back."
Of course, Halloween is always a priority in the candy business. So what makes this year different? LeBel explained that after the surprise success of 2021, the company wasn't going to miss the opportunity to maximize seasonal sales, and that meant doubling down on production despite widespread supply constraints.
Halloween candy is for sale at a Harris Teeter grocery store on October 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. According to the most recent inflation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of Halloween candy is up over 13 percent compared to last year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
"Like most manufacturers, we are in a strained supply network, so we had to make some really tough choices, and one of the most important was prioritizing Halloween," he said. He added that this meant using additional manufacturing resources or "line time," to use an industry term, to pump out more Halloween-themed candy, as opposed to other seasonal treats.
What's causing supply challenges in the candy business? LeBel said it's "not one thing, or I think we'd be further along in our recovery journey. But I'd say it's very typical of what's happening to the entire industry: labor shortages, transportation shortages, packaging shortages."
Buying Candy Early and Often
For context, Mars Wrigley has five main seasons: Valentines, Easter, Summer, Halloween, and Christmas/winter holidays. Halloween is by far the biggest in terms of sales, said LeBel, and it's also quickly becoming one of the longest. While August marks the official start of the season for the company, Halloween candy starts shipping out in June.
Designer Barb Salzman, from Hatch Creative Studio, hands out candy to children trick-or-treating on October 31, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
"The season is starting earlier," he said. "We're putting up displays, if you can believe this, in July and August. We're seeing a 25 percent increase in sales before the season even kicks off. "
He said that the Halloween season has become mixed up with back-to-school shopping, and that customers are finding more reasons to buy candy early and often, whether that's for pre-holiday celebrations or simply baking up a batch of cookies with a spooky twist.
The extended season has taken some of the pressure off those last couple weeks of October, when consumers stock up for trick-or-treaters, but the home stretch is still crucial.
"We still do a minimum of 40 percent of our sales that last week," LeBel said.
However, the manufacturing part is mostly over. About 95 percent of Mars Wrigley's product has already shipped, and while some additional inventory will be shipped out to retailers who are seeing more sell-through than expected, the big challenge at this point is merchandising.
Right now, Mars Wrigley merchandise teams are spread across the country, moving products from back rooms to front-end displays decked out with pumpkins, skeletons, and cobwebs.
"The last couple of weeks is when Halloween is won or lost," LeBel said.