Halloween is now an unmissable opportunity and c-store retailers are embracing the season for maximum excitement and sales

Halloween is worth a spine-tingling £330m and is now the UK’s third most profitable seasonal event, with 79% of families planning to spend on ghoulish goodies to celebrate the occasion, according to drinks giant AG Barr.

“The British passion for Halloween has been growing over the years and now represents an unmissable sales opportunity,” says head of marketing Adrian Troy.

Bev Rushbrook, commercial manager at Cloetta UK, agrees. “As a nation we are becoming more emotionally engaged with this season and willing to spend money, get creative and embrace the season.”

Halloween is bigger than ever for the confectionery market, notes Hancocks Cash & Carry. “The classic trick or treat celebration will continue to grow and this is the ideal time for independent retailers to increase their margins on confectionery before the Christmas rush,” points out purchasing director Jonathan Summerley.

Ramesh Shingadia is hoping to make a killing at his Londis stores in Southwater and Horsham, West Sussex. “The stats suggest it is getting more and more popular every year,” he says. “A lot of the movies in recent years, such as Twilight, Harry Potter and Vampire Diaries are all US influenced and this has had an impact on Halloween in the UK. It’s a great festival which we get behind; it generates a lot of sales.”

Harj Dhasee of Nisa Village Stores in Mickleton, Gloucestershire, is a big fan of the fright night, too. “Last year was a good Halloween. We took an extra £2,000 on Friday and £1,000 on Saturday. It’s like Easter to us, it’s that important.”

Merchandising

Follow this merchandising advice to ensure a howlingly good Halloween

Dual siting – put Halloween items on the main fixture as well as on a seasonal bay

Theatre – capture the consumer’s imagination. Use products that will be sold in store as props. Think cauldrons full of sweets, carved out pumpkins and Halloween decorations

Range – appeal to both adults and children and show the cross-range of products that are applicable to Halloween, from children’s trick or treating confectionery to adult’s party drinks

Till point – place a small range of treats at the till point to take advantage of impulse purchases

Timing – start selling products in September. Consumers will purchase ahead of the event.

Source: Cloetta UK

In order to make the most of the festival, Harj believes it is crucial to create in-store theatre. “We dress the store up and the staff dress as witches and vampires – I was a wizard last year. We have spiders hanging from the ceiling, flashing pumpkins, skulls and cobwebs. It’s so easy to dress your store for Halloween, you can just go into a cash & carry, B&M or a discounter and stock up. It adds more spirit to the place and the staff are happier when they are involved in the fun. The kids love it, too.”

Wilf Hardman, who owns Newsmart in Bolton, also makes an effort to embrace Halloween and create an eerily entertaining atmosphere for his customers. “We have a witch that screams at you when you go near her – it’s very funny and the customers like it. And we have plastic pumpkins that have light-up eyes. Christmas isn’t the same as it used to be so you have to make the most of other events.”

Londis Ascot in Berkshire has heavily embraced Halloween in recent years. “The whole store is themed and we have specific displays around the store,” explains owner Roli Ranger. “We hang up broomsticks, models of witches and furry spiders. Customers really enjoy it.”

Ramesh also goes to town in giving his customers a taste of terror. “For the past five years we’ve started doing more in terms of in-store theatre around Halloween and Bonfire Night,” he says. “We have pumpkins and costumes – witches’ hats and other novelty items that go with the event.”

He also has a Halloween display table. “Because we have a lot of space now, thanks to our recent extension, we have a dedicated display. It creates theatre, change and drama. There’s nothing more mundane for a customer than coming into the same store day in, day out. It’s good to have an area of constant change; it creates a bit of fun in-store, and it makes people aware that the festival is on.”

According to HIM’s Having a Happy Halloween 2014 report, 43% of shoppers think that c-stores should have seasonal displays. “There’s a big opportunity for c-stores to wow shoppers as expectations are lower versus multiple grocers,” says communications & insights director Kate Littler.

Mars Confectionery UK agrees that seasonal in-store displays are a must-have. “Consumers love ‘event’ displays, so creating a Halloween display is a great way to boost spending, add excitement and novelty around the confectionery category,” says Mars UK trade relations manager Bep Dhaliwal. “Grouping associated products together also makes it easier for consumers to buy everything they need for their own perfect Halloween at their local convenience store.”

Theatre in-store is key, adds AG Barr’s Troy. “Creating spooky displays using our dedicated POS material is a great way to maximise sales this Halloween.”

Not only are displays a way of capturing consumers’ imaginations, they also act as a signpost for the event and ensure customers are aware that they can buy Halloween items in their local store. Says Mark Roberts, trade marketing manager at Perfetti Van Melle: “With eye-catching displays, POS and theatre in store, retailers can ensure that their customers know they stock Halloween confectionery. Prominent positioning of key items can prompt shoppers popping in for a snack to return to purchase their Halloween treats.”

For this reason, it is critical that retailers start to display their Halloween goods well in advance of the night itself. Says Summerley: “Much of the purchasing activity occurs close to the event, but retailers must display their range in good time to ensure that all of their customers are aware of availability and consider them at the last minute. Halloween might only be one day, but its effect will last much longer as shoppers buy into themed ideas during the run up to the event.”

Roli is quick to act, getting his stock out mid-September. “We get in there early with products and theatre, which helps,” he says. Harj is also a believer in getting products out early. “We get the stand out three weeks beforehand because you have to get it into people’s heads that you stock it,” he says. “The decorations go up a week and a half to two weeks before.”

But while products bought to celebrate Halloween are often a planned purchase, themed treat products are often bought on impulse as customers get into the mood. In terms of treat products, Harj claims that Cadbury Crunchy Spiders were a winner last year. “We had a huge Cadbury Spider on the counter and they absolutely flew out. One in every 10 people bought them.”

Sweet sales

Seasonal treats are a great way to get customers excited about Halloween and are now worth £1.1m, states Mondelez International. “Retailers should focus on best-sellers to drive impulse purchases, including number one Halloween self-eat Cadbury Screme egg and number three self-eat Cadbury Crunchy Spider,” says trade communications manager Susan Nash.

“Screme Eggs do really well, and so do Skittles,” says Ramesh. “Haribo sweets sell really well, too, both people just buying for themselves and for trick or treating.”

Trick or treating is without doubt the biggest purchase and usage occasion for confectionery, says Harriet Scales, seasonal brand manager for Haribo and Maoam. “As Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, we expect trick or treating and parties to grow in popularity. Here value and formats are hugely important as shoppers look for multipacks of portion-controlled treats that are well-liked.”

Supporting the Halloween occasion are Haribo Trick or Treat multipacks, available in a 200g pack containing eight 25g mini bags and in a 608g pack including 38 mini bags at 16g. “Treats purchased for parties are usually taken out of their bags and poured into bowls; here consumers look for fun, themed and colourful products that match the occasion. Variety is an important consideration with innovative and new products driving interest and sales.”

New for 2015 is Haribo Minions Gone Batty, a limited-edition £1 bag featuring Halloween-themed Minion-shaped jelly and foam pieces in new flavour combinations, while Haribo Horror Mix is back for another year. Packs feature jelly and foam pieces in a selection of Halloween shapes.

Nestlé is also gearing up for trick or treating. “Some 75% of families buy into Halloween confectionery, with 26% of families taking part in trick or treating,” says the firm. In addition to its Smarties Pumpkin and Milkybar Ghost treats, the firm is launching a Mini Smarties Trick or Treat Pumpkin (rrp £3), which comes with 10 boxes of mini Smarties inside. A tear-strip on the front of the pumpkin’s mouth can be removed to create a pack ideal for taking to the door to share with trick or treaters. The eight-count display outer reads ‘Do you dare to dip?’ to capture  attention.

Cloetta is also tapping into the trick or treat market with Chewits Chewmix share bags. Designed for doorstep sharing, the sweets are individually wrapped and each packet contains an assortment of flavours. Chewits Vampire Fangs also make a return.

Win with pumpkins

But Halloween isn’t just about confectionery. “Despite confectionery being one of the biggest categories within the Halloween category, key drivers of growth continue to be pumpkins and costumes,” says Cloetta’s Rushbrook. “This is reflective of the growing trend for consumers to celebrate the event by throwing a party (Nielsen Scantrack Total Store Read – Grocery Multiples two weeks ending 2 November 2013) and opens the category up to more than just children trick or treating.”

Baba Butt, who owns five stores in Reading, Berkshire, enjoyed great pumpkin sales in 2014. “Booker put pumpkins on deal for the first two days (from £3 to £1) – we can’t go wrong on that and they sell for £1.99.”

They flew off the shelves at Ramesh’s store, too. “We make 40% margin on pumpkins. We had more than 100 last year and sold out. We could have sold a lot more.”

It was the same story for Roli. “We got extra-large pumpkins last year and they sold out; we keep upping the order every year. We get a 35% margin on pumpkins.”

Novelty toy stands are also a hit, he claims. “Wholesaler BJ Toys provides a stand with fangs, face-paints, fake blood and costumes on a sale or return basis. The toy paraphernalia is good as we’ll get 30% upwards on that.”

Wilf has also seen success with novelty accessories. “We’ve always sold hats, masks, fingernails, fake blood and costumes. It helps people to get into the spirit of things.”

Harj agrees: “BJ Toys supplies all of our standalone fixtures, featuring costumes, toys, masks and party decorations. Costumes went really well last year; we had to re-order as we sold out.”

Getting the balance between selling out and having wastage is tricky with seasonal goods, but there are ways to deal with the issue. “A lot of our novelty products are sale or return,” says Ramesh. “With confectionery there is difficulty in selling it after Halloween, but because we have good epos data we can make good judgements. There is some wastage, but we’ll reduce prices and sell at cost price.”

Harj also pays close attention to sales data. “Nisa sends out a pre-sales magazine and we use it to record what we sold, what we had left over and when it sold out (if it did). We put leftover stock on clip-strips and in dumpbins at the counter at the front of the store and wait a fortnight before reducing stock.”

HIM’s Halloween research notes that convenience retailers are reluctant to buy themed stock, with just 36% saying they feel they should get behind seasonal events with themed stock. However, HIM also states that just one in 10 Brits questioned considered their local shop a good source of Halloween items. “We know shoppers don’t think UK convenience stores do enough to maximise events in-store,” says Littler. “If you’re not seeing demand, it may be because you’re not creating one.” She urges retailers to think big and bold with displays and to think about how the products they stock are fulfilling a particular need, whether it’s trick or treat packs or Halloween party packs.

Ramesh has every intention of going big and bold again this year. “We’ve increased our Halloween orders by 30% this year. You can’t ignore Halloween; you need to invest and make a go of it.”

Off-licence opportunities

One of the big Halloween sellers at Nisa Mickleton is the alcohol category. “People look forward to Halloween – it’s all about parties for adults,” says owner Harj Dhasee. “I think they see it as the  warm-up to Christmas, with wine, beer and spirits all included.”

Ramesh Shingadia at Londis Horsham and Southwater also reports healthy off-licence sales for both Halloween and Bonfire night, and expects this year to be particularly successful. “We have a lot of off-licence products on offer. The fact that Halloween falls on a Saturday is good.”

Spirits see a huge uplift in volume sales in the run up to Halloween in key multiple grocers (54%) compared with average weekly sales, according to Jägermeister marketing director Nicole Goodwin. But this spike in sales is not being reflected in c-stores. “In the impulse sector there is just a 7% uplift in the same period, which suggests retailers are missing out on this huge opportunity and should consider what to stock and how, ahead of the Halloween period and party season,” she says. “Jägermeister generates 34% higher than average weekly volume sales at Halloween in impulse and should therefore be a must-stock.”

Says Goodwin: “Halloween is the perfect opportunity for retailers to cross-merchandise Halloween products with spirits to grab the attention of those looking to purchase for parties and 
nights out.

“Use a Halloween display to attract consumers to specific products and help increase sales of key lines.”