Halloween is a great opportunity to have some fun in-store and create some interest with new products, displays and even the odd costume.

Let’s face it – any date on the calendar that gives you an excuse to have a bit of fun is one to be welcomed.

And while Halloween might now be a lucrative £310m market in the UK (Mintel), it’s also an excuse to cut loose a little and get your ghoul on.

“Halloween is a real laugh for us – it’s fun for both customers and the staff,” says Suenita Keshwara from Costcutter Kirton in Boston.

“It’s great to see the reaction from people when they spot us all dressed up in horrible costumes. They don’t usually expect to go into their local convenience store and see zombies walking around!”

Retailers who are used to seeing the early morning undead wandering their stores in search of the coffee machine (or post-pub shoppers looking tipsily for snacks) might beg to differ. But one thing’s for sure – Suenita and her team definitely go the extra mile to get into the spirit of the spooky season.

Around four years ago Suenita made the decision to go big on Halloween. As a child she never went trick or treating, and so decided to make the maximum effort as an adult.

“On Halloween itself all the staff dress up,” she says.

“We go really over the top with it and it’s something that we all enjoy doing. We have a lot of fun – and customers come in just to see how we’ve dressed up this time around.”

Her approach is much more than just sticking on a pair of devil’s horns and calling it an outfit. Instead Suenita goes for full-on horror make-up to ghastly effect.

“In recent years I’ve been a zombie and an evil cat,” she says.

“My sister had a bullet hole through her head with white eyes and blood dripping down. We actually look properly awful – sometimes almost scaring the customers off! I had one lady who was shaking in fear, she couldn’t look at me. We do go right over the top!”

All this frightening fun has a serious side too. The team raises money for charity and their efforts are featured in the local paper, building positive publicity.

On Halloween night the store also becomes part of the local safe trick or treat circuit, giving kids the chance to come in, show off their costumes, and grab some sweets.

“When we started doing it properly some people were saying that Halloween was a bit too Americanised – and maybe some of the older folk didn’t quite get it,” she says.

“But I think that everyone really looks forward to it now – and the customers are all talking about what we’re going to do next.”

Over at Spar Lostock Hall in Preston, Steph Latham is another retailer that goes all-out for the end of October.

“I absolutely love Halloween!” she laughs. “I think I like it so much just because you get the chance to do all the different displays and see all the children come into the store dressed up before they go trick or treating.

“Quite a lot of these kinds of seasonal events get brushed under the carpet, and it’s great seeing more people come out and really ‘do’ it. It’s definitely big where we are, and I think it’s still growing.”

Customers who regularly see Steph in the store also know that she’s a big fan of dressing up, whatever the occasion.

“I dress up at any opportunity!” she says.

“If there’s a chance to dress up in the store then I’m right on it. I do try and make an effort – we all do. For example, last year I came in as a skeleton pirate, which was really fun. You do have to make it more silly, and less scary, because of the younger kids that come in.

“Having said that, last year I got some big furry spiders in as decorations around the shop and some of the children thought they were real and didn’t like it. To be honest I still kept them up though!”

The official stats confirm what these game retailers who go all-in for Halloween already know: the occasion is a great chance to grow some spook-tacular sales while getting involved with the local community.

For instance, according to Mintel 13% of Halloween shoppers said they spent more on the occasion than ever before during 2016. Elsewhere, HIM Research & Consulting weighs in with the fact that half of the population bought something Halloween-related last year.

Yet like Christmas, the date on which Halloween falls can make a big difference to sales.

Despite the excitement, and extra spending, Mintel points out that value sales of Halloween goods actually slowed slightly during 2016. In 2015, the bumper Halloween was on a Saturday, suggesting that the slight slow-down last year was because of a more limited sales window.

This time around Tuesday is the big day. Steph says that this timing has the potential to boost the category by splitting sales into party goods for the weekend, and then trick or treating lines during the early part of the week.

“I reckon that everyone will come in for the Halloween treats, and what have you, on the Monday and Tuesday,” she explains.

“Meanwhile, Saturday and Sunday will be about the party stuff, just because that’s the closest weekend to Halloween itself.”

Suenita predicts that at her store the date won’t make a lot of difference to sales.

“You know, it doesn’t really matter to us what date it comes on,” she says. “We have a two-week period when everything goes up and sales are going to be highest on Halloween night and the weekend before. Even if it’s on a Tuesday kids will come out, it doesn’t really matter that it’s on a school night.”

So, with this in mind, what’s the optimum time to present your seasonal stock?

Steph believes that the essential window for Halloween buys is four or five days before the night itself. However, she always creates a big display much earlier in the month to really build the anticipation and remind customers that Halloween’s about to hit.

“We do a display about three weeks prior to Halloween just so people know we’ve got all these things in and they know the prices and can plan for what they’re going to get,” she says.

“We try to have a display so powerful that it creates a real impact straight away for people walking into the store. Funnily enough, I’m in the process of looking at pop-up coffins at the moment for this year.”

Romi Mediratta from Lane End Londis in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, says that a slightly shorter lead-time works best for his customers.

“I think that it’s nice to create awareness ahead of the event, but setting up stock two weeks before Halloween tends to be enough time for us,” he says.

“Otherwise we have a lot of space that’s being used for products that aren’t necessarily selling. We find that people tend to come in for masks and other items around two days before the main event, with lots of people coming in on the evening itself to buy things.

“I think it’s definitely a big occasion these days…it’s as big as you want to make it, really. If you can successfully exploit the occasion then the sales are definitely there to be had.”

Sweeten up sales for a special occasion

Shoppers are sweet on sugar confectionery at Halloween, says Mark Roberts, trade marketing manager at Perfetti Van Melle (PVM). “Unlike Easter or Christmas, where sales can be dominated by chocolate, Halloween is the occasion where sugar confectionery can really shine,” he explains. “In addition to impulse purchases, during this time period the category also benefits from a surge in planned sales. Shoppers will be actively stocking up for trick or treaters, fancy dress parties as well as looking for gifts and stunning centre pieces.

“Innovation remains key for Halloween, but at the same time there’s a need for manufacturers to listen to and act upon retailer feedback. Seasonal stock isn’t always 100% successful, and if it’s not sold quickly it can end up costing more than expected.”

The space given to seasonal branded lines in total market declined by 7.6% in 2016, he says. “In line with this we’ve seen 20% less sales from Halloween branded lines. This year, we’ve widened our offering to ensure we’re catering to both retailers who love novelty products, and also those who will still see a surge in sugar confectionery sales, but who may have less space, or want their products to have a longer shelf-life.

“We’ve given our core range a spooky makeover. The packs simply feature Halloween artwork, giving retailers the opportunity to create theatre in-store without a risk of mark down post event. We’re bringing the focus back to £1 lines, and our bags all include individually-wrapped sweets, ideal for trick or treaters.

“With 92% of consumers actively trying to reduce the amount of sugar they consume, retailers should expect to see some shoppers searching for confectionery that’s a little bit better for them. It’s worth ensuring that you prepare for this by introducing some reduced sugar, or completely sugar free lines.”

PVM Halloween products include:

Premium Skull shaped lollipop with a ‘fizzy’ Brain taste and texture and strawberry and lime flavour (45 lollipops per display, rrp 35p); Fruittella Duo Stix in a combination of raspberry & apple, strawberry & peach and cola & lemon flavours (rrp £1);

Fruittella Juicy Chews in strawberry, lemon and orange flavours (rrp £1); Chupa Chups Spooky Pizza containing snakes and spiders (rrp £5); and Chupa Chups Mini 20 pack containing apple, orange, strawberry and cola flavours 
(rrp £1).

 

As most experienced retailers already realise, the key to unlocking Halloween sales is by focusing on sweets. HIM reports that 36% of c-store shoppers bought Halloween-themed confectionery last year, and the number of fright night-focused lines seems to grow each time.

“We tend to focus mainly on confectionery for Halloween,” says Ian Handley from Handley’s News & Convenience Store in Northwich.

“I think that’s because as a store we tend to focus on confectionery anyway, so it follows that we’d do well with a lot of the themed lines.

“We do our own pound bags that we make up for the kids, and theme them with stuff like fangs and eyeballs from Hancocks Cash and Carry.

“As well as the kids, you also have adults coming in looking for something to give the trick or treaters. So that’s about having wrapped sweets like lollies, which do well for us, or small packs of Haribo.

“We have them on the counter and around the shop and put in a bit of Halloween theatre in-store so people can see we’re taking part. A lot of kids come in over Halloween and we’re doing it for them really, so we do get involved.”

Steph adds that there’s a strong link between building a bit of theatre and picking up more impulse sales.

“It’s a case of decorating for maximum impact and people noticing the displays and thinking ‘OK – we need those for trick and treating this year’,” says Steph.

“So the bags of sweets and multi-packs are always prominently on display around the store for people to just pick up and buy. It does make a difference for sales if you put the effort in.”

Confectionery, cakes, drinks and snacks may be a no-brainer for c-store retailers. But what’s the market like for non-food goods like scary masks and creepy costumes?

Ian says that a few years ago he’d definitely have invested in a good selection of costumes, though this category seems to have dried-up for him more recently.

“I think that a bigger Halloween selection at the supermarkets has maybe killed costumes for us a bit. Also, people can go on Amazon and get what they want for a fiver.”

All treats, no tricks

Swizzels is the second biggest sugar confectionery brand, outperforming the market at Halloween to achieve a 15% market share (IRI five weeks value to 06/11/2016). Seven of the top 10 Halloween sugar confectionery lines are from Swizzels, including the variety bags such as the Trick or Treat range.

Mark Walker, sales director at Swizzels, says: “Swizzels has a large range of variety pack products that are ideal for sharing over the Halloween season – all individually wrapped, offering a varied selection of Swizzels’ most popular treats. Not to mention they are great value for money.

“The Swizzels Loadsa range ticks both boxes when it comes to value and variety. The Loadsa range packaging has recently undergone a redesign which includes a clear window to showcase the treats inside, and a flash clearly stating how many individual sweets are in each pack. These new additions plus the £1 price point on the packs guarantee to catch the eye of shoppers on the hunt for sweet treats to share with friends and family.”

Another option for Halloween is Swizzels’ Trick or Sweet bag, containing a selection of traditional Swizzels favourites such as Double Lollies, Parma Violets, Refresher Bars, Love Hearts, as well as the Sour Apple Refreshers chew bar with a tangy taste.

Swizzels classic Party Mix Tub and Sweet Shop Favourites tins both also contain the perfect assortment of individually-wrapped chews and lollipops.

Swizzels also has a ‘Halloween Sorted’ campaign planned, including a website dedicated to ensuring consumers have a successful and enjoyable Halloween period.

Romi is a bit more upbeat about the potential for non-food Halloween products. Every year he orders a hod unit from Londis which includes masks and face-paints for people to finish off their outfits. Once he’s dressed it up a bit with spooky accessories it makes a good in-store focal point.

“It’s quite a last-minute thing round where we are,” he says.

“Customers will be going to a party, or need something for their kids to wear while trick or treating, and they come in at the last minute to buy it.”

This marked difference in the non-food market could be down to age. For example, HIM reports that when it comes to confectionery sales, customers aged 35-54 (mainly parents) are more likely to stock up on sweets for trick or treaters. But, decorations and dress-up sales are mainly down to millennials (aged 16-34) seeking out outfits and accessories that will look good on social media. Elsewhere in store, there’s one other important seasonal item.

Famous Mexican celebration on trend for 2017

If anyone knows what’s going to be on-trend for Halloween 2017 it’s Fiona Drummond from GAP Convenience Distribution. As far back as January she was busy spotting the mask and novelty styles set to get the most scares this October in order to create a spooky stand for Spar stores.

“For Halloween 2017 I think the Mexican Day of the Dead is going to be really trendy,” she says.

“The event has an interesting background – it’s a day when people take time to remember loved ones who have died. So it’s all about celebration rather than people frightening each other.

“This year we’ve created a special Day of the Dead mask with bright colours and flowers on it. Rather than just being ghoulish, the design is fun.

“I think it’s something completely new and different to offer customers.”

The mask will be a central part of Drummond’s special non-food Halloween stand this year, which is coloured lime green to create maximum in-store impact. Away from Day of the Dead, there’s plenty for customers who want more classic Halloween items too.

“The multiples have got clothing all sewn up, but there’s still a chance to get involved in the dressing up side of things in convenience stores,” she says.

“The grizzly teeth, tubes of blood and Scream-style masks are always very popular. We also do another mask with a cape on the back that looks really creepy.”

Continuing with the theme, Amigos Tequila Beer is introducing a limited edition pack for the Mexican celebration, emblazoning an artistic sugar skull to support the festivities and catch eyes for the autumn season.

The 4x330ml product, in stores from the middle of September, features the Amigos sugarskull surrounded by artistic marigolds – the official flowers of Dia de los muertos.

The art is displayed on a brick background to tie in with the brand’s support of street art via the #streetcerveza campaign.

The new pack will be supported by an on-pack promotion where entrants can win weekly prizes including tickets to Day of the Dead events across the UK.

Other prizes available include cases of beer as well as an Amigos party pack so consumers can throw their own Mexican fiesta at home. Packs are set to include decorations, drinks and spicy sangrita to trial along with some extra branded merchandise.

 

Suenita says that she’s keen on pumpkins because they add a sense of theatre to the store while providing the opportunity to spread word about the store on-line.

“We always make sure we’ve got pumpkins in at this time of year, which are really eye-catching in the shop,” she says.

“For this year we’re thinking about running a pumpkin carving competition for everyone who comes into the store and buys one. They can post their pumpkins online and tag us – then we can decide which one we like and they’ll bring in a receipt to claim their prize.”

As Fiona Drummond from GAP Convenience Distribution points out, in 2017 people want to get together and party.

“One of the biggest opportunities is Halloween parties. I think that these days the British public is just looking for a chance to dress up and party, That’s one of the reasons that the occasion has just grown and grown.”

These shoppers are often looking for Halloween booze to fuel the party. Over in Boston, Suenita confirms this: “If we can get a good offer on packs of beer, or even wine, then we’ll definitely highlight that around the store. Along with snacks that’s one reason people come into the shop at Halloween, to pick up items for parties.

“I do think that adults are just using it as an excuse to party – well I know that we definitely are anyway!”

Creepy chiller choices add to the party

When it comes to maximising Halloween sales, confectionery isn’t the only body in the graveyard. Retailers can cash in by extending the c-store spookiness to the contents of their chiller with the right scary soft drinks.

“The Halloween occasion represents a significant opportunity for retailers to grow sales during what is now a key period in the UK retail calendar,” adds Adrian Troy, marketing director at AG Barr.

As well as the Barr family range and IRN-BRU, AG Barr offers Funkin – a cocktail mixer collection that can add extra spirit to Halloween cocktails.

Also seeking to create a stir this October is Fanta’s new look limited edition Halloween pack design which will be available from September to early November.

Simon Harrison, operational marketing director at Coca-Cola European Partners, points out that soft drinks should be given a good push thanks to Halloween parties, and the rising number of people who won’t drink alcohol.

“As statistics show that as many as 21% of adults in the UK are now teetotal (ONS), soft drinks are playing an important role for retailers in the run-up to Halloween.

“Sharing bottles such as 1.75 PET bottles and 4x330ml multipacks are a perfect match for social gatherings, so stocking shelves with a variety of soft drinks in these formats can help retailers maximise sales.

“Halloween party hosts may also look to create some ghoulish cocktails and mocktails for their guests, and mixers are a key ingredient for this. Schweppes one-litre mixers are available with striking black labels.”