Halloween is not just big business in the US, it’s increasingly becoming a much-needed boost for the UK's retail, leisure and tourism sectors too.
Planet Retail forecasts Halloween sales will rise 12.1% in 2012 to £353 million, as consumers look to lighten the autumn gloom.
And investment manager for Redmayne Bentley David Battersby believes that despite the recession, a positive impact is predicted for the retail sector as Halloween “provides an opportunity for people to feel good about themselves”.
“Christmas is the most important time of the year but Halloween ranks with Easter, St Patricks day, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s day as important moments in the economic calendar,” he added.
However, Wednesday is – to quote one expert – the worst day for Halloween to fall on for retailers, as trick or treaters are less likely to go out and there are less parties as it’s nowhere near the weekend. So how can businesses make the most of the spooky season?
As early as the end of August, Halloween-theme chocolates, cookies, savoury goods and cakes started appearing in the big supermarkets and smaller retail outlets.
But research from Mintel seems to suggest the UK market has lost some of its appetite for novelty food since a peak in 2010, with Halloween themed products taking up less of a percentage across the board.
As an example, cakes, pastries and sweet goods with ghoulish decorations made up 6.75% of the total cakes, pastries and sweet goods market in 2010, but just 4.94% in 2011.
Similarly, pastilles, gums and jellies peaked at 11.72% in 2008, but Halloween variants only made up 8.37% by 2011.
There’s also been a notable rise in non-sweetie themed products – spooky nail varnishes for example only had 0.09% of the market in 2009, but last year that had risen to 6.44%.
Similarly, there were no lip colours themed for Halloween in 2008, but by 2011 that had risen to 4.08%.
Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight for food and drink at Mintel said the decisions behind the changes were two-fold, firstly, a number of companies had been burned by overstocking Halloween goods before the big day, and secondly supermarkets are coming under pressure to not over encourage kids to indulge on sweet goods.
“Last year we captured 60 products which were related to Halloween, so far this year that number looks to be down, although the full data won’t be known til after 31 October,” she told the Huffington Post UK.
“We’ve seen a swing away from candies to other goods over concerns about kids eating too much candy and sweets, but also we’re in a recession and people aren’t spending as much.”
In the US, Hershey, the biggest manufacturer of sweets in the US, got seriously burnt by consumers last year, who bought less candy in the run up to Halloween, but bought significant amounts at a heavily discounted price in November.
“What we’re starting to see more of is autumnal goods, which have a longer shelf-life – it’s a much smarter marketing ploy,” Mogelonsky said.
Online gift site Prezzybox has seen a rise horror-related products, with two Halloween gifts currently in their top ten – Zombie Shower Gel and Colour Me Good colouring book, featuring famous scenes from horror films.
Managing director Zak Edwards told Huff Post UK: “More than 1.8 million people have searched for Halloween in the past 30 days on Google.co.uk, so it really is a massive holiday time of year.”
Online retail giant Amazon told Huff Post UK that themed contact lenses, temporary tattoos, fake blood, face paints and vampire fangs have all “clawed and crept their way” into the top 20 bestsellers across the Toys & Games Store at Amazon.co.uk,.
Amazon’s Ulrike Wingenter-Davey said the fact they had knocked family favourites Monopoly and Lego off the top spots was testament to the fact that Halloween is no longer considered just a stateside tradition.
Planet Retail analyst Nicole Parker-Hodds said UK consumers were wanting to keep their purchases, rather than treating Halloween as a disposable event.
“Consequently, more retail sectors, such as beauty and clothing, will consider offering Halloween items and promotions, while others will quickly expand their ranges,” she said.
Food and Drink
That’s not to say there isn’t a huge amount of fun food out there this year – a quick scan of some press releases reveals the following products (and these are just a handful):
- Asda plans to sell 100,000 packs of Spooky Snowballs
- Greggs is hoping that its zombie-themed marketing video boost sales of its baked goods
- Marks and Spencer has a variety of bodily organs in jelly format and ‘creepy cupcakes’ on offer
- Sainsbury’s is pushing its own Halloween gingerbread, brownies and donuts;
- Morrisons offers shoppers recipe cards to make their own frogspawn punch and chocolate coffin cake and
- Tesco has ‘freaky fairycakes’ and chocolate chip bats
Individual snack brands are also getting in on the act; Cadbury's Screme Eggs, McVities’ Spooky Sour Cake Bar, and Mr Kipling’s Frankenstein Fancies are just three examples, as reported earlier this month on the Guardian.
Even the grown-ups are getting in on the act, with savoury goods for slightly bigger ghouls and witches.
The Covent Garden Soup Company's October special is Pumpkin Ghoulash, and Harvey Nichols fans will be delighted with a Halloween range, which includes Brain Jam, Organ Marmalade and Thickest Human Snot.
And for the really flash, Fortnum & Mason is selling Mexican skull biscuits, with Selfridges offering Crystal Head vodka, in a skull-shaped bottle, to wash it all down with.
Nor is this just a London thing – the Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream company, based on the outskirts of Huddersfield, produces flavours for Halloween including Pumpkin oil and Toffee Apple.
Angels, the UK’s oldest and largest costume house and supplier, has been going since 1840, and contacted Huff Post UK to say it had already noticed an increase in Halloween requests to its website.
The number of visits had increased 14% compared to the same period last year, and consumers are spending more too – with the average spend up by 12%.
Top costumes include a grim reaper, witches, and Beatlejuice themed outfits - and babies are getting in on the act – or rather their parents are forcing them into it.
Director Emma Angel told Huff Post UK: “There is undoubtedly a growing trend regarding fancy dress costumes for babies. Noticeably, the most popular costumes are animal-themed, and this Halloween our best-selling products for this age group include baby bats, dinosaurs and spiders.
“While celebrities dressing up their own children may certainly have had an influence on this trend… another possible reason for the growing popularity is that Halloween is becoming an increasingly family-oriented event.“
The advent of social media has impacted on sales too – as it’s now easier than ever before to share photos of kids looking cute in costumes the popularity of fancy dress appears to have increased.
Costumes range from the bizarre to the ridiculous – no longer are we limited to cats, witches and half-baked attempts at horror film characters; it appears zombies are top of the order in 2012.
Glasgow fancy dress store, Absolutely Fancy Dress, is making a killing (sorry) this Halloween after spotting an opportunity; a 40% rise in internet searches for Zombie costumes compared to this time last year.
Director Alex Kilbride, told the Huffington Post UK he was expecting it to be the busiest Halloween for four years.
“Halloween is always a busy time of year for us with people searching online for the scariest or coolest costume they can find," Kilbride said.
"We’re seeing more people buying costumes online – online sales have strongly increased our growth for some years now.”
Kilbride added that using Google’s AdWords programme to expand its reach had resulted in the shop’s profits doubling.
Laurian Clemence, a spokesperson at Google UK, said: “We have seen a marked increase in the online search for fancy dress costumes between Halloween 2011 and Halloween 2010; and 2012 looks set to be even more popular so it’s great to see small businesses like the Absolutely Fancy Dress benefiting from the trend.”
And if we’re not dressing up as zombies, we’re fashioning outfits out of morphsuits. In the UK, sales so far in October have reached £235,585, with that figure expected to increase to £309,980 by Halloween.
Morphsuits puts the strong sales down to Halloween's uniqueness as a holiday, and believes that while the recession may affect people's entertainment spending throughout the year, when it comes to the one day where the whole world is going a bit crazy, people are willing to shell out.
Mishal Verjee, marketing manager at Morphsuits, told Huff Post UK a big part of its success was because Brits love to dress-up, as it “fits with our humour”.
“The trigger point for the growth of Halloween in the UK was the Wal-Marts purchasing of Asda. They were the first major store to give a whole aisle to Halloween costumes, accessories, and so on; they took what they learnt in the US, executed it well and tapped into the fancy dress demand."
Verjee added that there had been an interesting change since the early 2000s, with Brits moving from hiring costumes to buying them outright.
“The continued growth of China meant you can now get the average Halloween costume for £30, which the fancy dress loving British public are happy spending in order to make a good time great,” she said.
While bars and pubs have been dining off the idea of themed nights out for decades, it’s only been in the last few years that companies dedicated to creating a genuine fright night have started to appear.
Chillisauce currently hosts two such nights; a Zombie Boot Camp and a Werewolf Hunting experience.
The zombie boot camp began last year, and was released three weeks before the big night – retailing at £79 per person or £55 if you are part of a large group, Chillisauce expects bookings to be 400% up on last year.
This year, the company’s added a Werewolf Hunting Experience; it’s slightly more expensive at £149 per person, but includes a crash course in basic military training and weapons training.
And arriving just in time for 31 October 2012, Wish.co.uk has introduced a Vampire Hunters experience, where groups pay £99 a head to undergo weapons training and tips on how to kill a vampire, before taking on four short missions of killing vamps in their lairs before rescuing a professor and taking out the Queen of the vampires.
If that all sounds a bit dramatic, there are businesses which specialise in finding a good Halloween themed bar.
"We are seeing a real increase in the number of Halloween parties, and enthusiasm amongst affluent 20 and 30-somethings doing major parties and events for Halloween," said Tammy Smulders, managing director of trend-based marketing insights consultancy at SCB Partners.
"Many 'cool' brands are investing in the Halloween frenzy, throwing massive events for hundreds or even thousands of people. Brands know that people love a good reason to party, and that people will make an effort for Halloween."
And nightlife website DesignMyNight.com has a dedicated section with more than 100 to choose from in London.
The top picks are 'Freak Chic' in Pacha, Dracula's Masquerade Ball at Jewel and Freaky Fairgrounds in Soho.
A spokesman told Huff Post UK: “There is a huge surge in Halloween demand this year from both consumers and venues holding Halloween specific parties. Our bookings have increased 345% from last year.”