Candy prices are up — and Halloween spending is, too

Tony Wagner and Janet Nguyen Oct 30, 2015

If you’re expecting a lot of trick-or-treaters this year, don’t get spooked by the price of fun-size Snickers.

Candy prices are expected to jump 4.2 percent from last year — the largest increase in four years, according to a report from the analysis firm IHS Global Insight. The spike in costs is connected to a price rise in global raw sugar, refined sugar beet and U.S. cocoa powder.

The report predicts candy spending will hit $2.2 billion, or about $18 per household.

An informal survey of Marketplace listeners on Twitter showed plenty of people spend close to that average, but neighborhoods with more trick-or-treaters can drive spending way up.

Jennifer Edstrom of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, said her family can get 600 or more costumed visitors on Halloween night. The family keeps a count, factors about $125 in their October budget and keeps an eye on candy prices so they can save while making sure they don’t have to turn any kids away.

“We actually have a formula in our house for the ratio of chocolate to nonchocolate candy to pass out,” she said. It’s one piece of chocolate for every two pieces of other, less-expensive candy. “I have to keep my husband in check, because he tends to be a little more generous with the chocolate.” 

Edstrom isn’t the only one who’s noticed an increase in prices. When there was some restructuring at his job, Chad Gernady of Wauconda, Illinois, said he quit buying chocolate for his nearly 200 trick-or treaters. Once things leveled back out at work, Gernady opted for the good stuff again.

“This is supposed to be a time for the kids to enjoy. They’re lugging around a lot of polyester and cotton and whatever they’re wearing.” Gernady said. “That’s my mentality: I suffered through some awful costumes, so I’m like, ‘dammit, you kids are getting the best I can get.’ Reese’s cups or some other chocolate — you should always have a huge stack when you’re done trick-or-treating.”

The Halloween candy spending grew 0.7 percent this year, the smallest jump since 2009, but that doesn’t mean candy sales are poor.

“It’s just that the growth rate is rather muted this year because last year was gangbusters,” said Chris Christopher, the director of global consumer economics at IHS Global Insight.

Last year’s rate was 5 percent, following stagnant growth in 2013 (a 1.8 percent increase) and 2012 (a 2.2 percent increase). Superstorm Sandy’s landfall in late October 2012 and lowered consumer confidence in 2013 (caused by the government shutdown in the first half of the year) contributed to those low growth rates, Christopher said.

For some, Halloween candy is a bit of an economic indicator. 

Joshua Hublar said he and his wife have been “clawing back” since the recession, but now that they both have good jobs and a home in Carmel, Indiana, they’ve find themselves with disposable income for the first time in a while. He’s dropped about $40 this Halloween season keeping an office candy bowl stocked.

“I’m actually doing quite well now. I’m at a great company, at a place where I can stay for quite a while. I’m sending myself back to school,” he said. “This is the first time in over a decade I’ve spent any money on giving other people candy, and it’s fun.” 

While Halloween leads the pack in candy sales among the holidays, it falls behind others in terms of overall spending, said Ibrahim Yucel, an industry analyst at research firm IBISWorld.

Overall Halloween spending is going to reach about $7.2 billion this year, down a little from last year. Meanwhile, Valentine’s Day spending hit nearly $19.6 billion, Yucel said.

Yucel added that Halloween spending is taking a ding from the homemade product movement. 

“You have social media websites like Pinterest and Instagram which are encouraging households to make decorations using homemade equipment.” Yucel said. “And you have more consumers pretty much making decorations on their own, rather than going to a pop-up Halloween store and purchasing premade ones.”

Over in Sacramento, California, Leila Couceiro said she’s able to keep her candy budget down to about $15 by plucking the “lame” candy from her son’s trick-or-treating haul and giving it to the last of the few dozen kids who visit. She said instead, she’s spending far more making her 12-year-old son’s caveman costume this year.

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