Mars Wrigley Chief Halloween Officer Tim LeBel dishes on this year's holiday planning
Even though Mars Wrigley has been planning for Halloween 2020 since 2018, there’s no way for the maker of M&Ms, Skittles, Snickers and Twix to know how the big candy season will unfold.
The pandemic continues to reshape how consumers shop, including a decrease in-store trips—especially to convenience stores—and an increase the use of online grocery shopping. With large gatherings still limited in many parts of the country, it remains to be seen whether people will host Halloween parties or will even be comfortable answering the door for trick-or-treaters.
“In a typical planning cycle, we would start actually two years out,” Mars Wrigley Chief Halloween Officer Tim LeBel says on the latest episode of the Marketer’s Brief podcast. That’s when LeBel, whose primary title is president of sales for Mars Wrigley U.S., and his team begin working with research and development and key retailers on trends, pack designs, innovations and flavors, he says. Then, about a year out, Mars Wrigley brings its ideas to retailers and starts planning the details of the season.
“Right after Fourth of July, we hit the ground running. But 2020 has been a pivot, for sure,” says LeBel.
In April, Mars Wrigley started to reach out to retail customers about the evolving plans for this year’s festivities.
“Halloween will still happen but it may look significantly different,” says LeBel. Some customers were still “very, very bullish in April and other customers were very, very concerned—rightfully so.”
Now, LeBel says, some of those bullish customers are more conservative, and vice versa. He's “very optimistic” that there will be trick-or-treating as well as "trunk-or-treating"—when families park in a common area and kids go from one decorated car trunk to another, collecting candy—across the U.S., though perhaps not in every market.
In 2019, overall U.S. Halloween season confectionery sales rose 1.4 percent to $4.6 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association, an industry trade group.
For 2020, Mars Wrigley is bringing back Skittles Zombies, introduced last year, and Halloween packaging for products such as M&Ms. It is coming up with contingency plans to try to capture consumer attention, including a virtual Halloween hub with online trick-or-treating, games and ways to purchase candy.
Some of the cues are coming from this year’s Easter season. Overall, the industry’s Easter season sales fell 4.1 percent to $4 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association.
Mars Wrigley had more products in stores for Easter than necessary, but not enough online. “We were out of product when it mattered most with key retailers,” says LeBel.
Mars Wrigley is planning more conservatively for Halloween, he says, and is “going to spend a disproportionate amount of time making sure we have the right range, in the right quantities, available digitally by each banner and retailer that we do business with.”