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Halloween trick-or-treating to grocery buying experiences to change

Ron Walter looks at how retailers will have to adapt due to COVID-19
Trading Thoughts by Ron Walter

Not many of us are thinking about Halloween in this pandemic situation.

You can bet the suppliers of candy and snacks are scratching their heads about what to do when trick-or-treating night arrives.

Depending on the state of re-opening on Oct. 31, there could be limited trick-or-treating, wide open trick-or-treating, or no trick-or-treating at all.

The Hershey Company — makers of popular brands such as milk chocolate bars, Kisses, Kit  Kat,  Reese’s, Twizzlers, Zero and Skor among others — was planning in June already.

Halloween is the biggest selling season for the $7.9 billion revenue candy maker. This one short season makes up 10 per cent of sales — nearly $800 million. Hershey’s annual profits were just over $1 billion last year.

Nearly half of Hershey sales are in the “treat-for-me” and “candy bowl”  categories — with the rest from one night of collecting candy.

As the company builds inventory for the season, it believes that wearing of masks could encourage lots of parents to allow their kids to go trick-or-treating, especially if the candy sits in a bowl on the step.

Further encouragement comes because there is no evidence that COVID-19 is passed on through handling of packages.

Hershey spokespeople claim they feel pretty good, based on what they’ve seen and on consumer feedback, but the company will focus promotion on “treat-for-me” and “candy bowl” sales.

The age-old practice of trick-or-treating likely isn’t the only one to see significant changes in marketing by food processors and retailers.

Deloitte’s U.S. national retail lead partner Marty Weintraub told the Canadian Grocer that grocery shoppers will be preoccupied with safety and convenience until a coronavirus vaccine has been implemented.

He predicts the endless choice of products in the centre aisles will be reduced as stores base business on more profitable, faster selling lines. Slower selling lines may become available only online.

We’ve witnessed that in Moose Jaw where some stores have dropped low margin, slow selling product lines. It’s forced buyers online or to larger centres.

The wide assortment of different flavours and sizes will decline in many stores as processors adjust production and margins. That will likely become common practice until people have more variety to spend income on than groceries.

The days of open-air bins and salad bars are done. Servers may dish out products from open air bins in some high volume locations.

A U.S. survey showing 71 per cent of respondents plan to buy more local food indicates another change in habits.

The leisurely stroll up and down aisles is a thing of the past. Why bother if selection and choice is reduced? Impulse items — magazines and confections may need new aisle spots.

And you can count on more pay-it-yourself cashier stations and tap payments.

The Western Canada rollout of New Freshco stores by Sobeys may show us what future stores will look like.

Ron Walter can be reached at 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.