CPG Brands and Retailers: Avoid Scary Sales Results This Halloween Season

By Jennifer Pelino, Media Center of Excellence, IRI


Halloween is right around the corner, but with COVID-19 still lurking across most of the U.S., trick-or-treating, big costume parties and other beloved traditions and gatherings are going to look much different this year. The pandemic continues to add extra complexity to all aspects of business planning, including advertising and media spend, and many brands and retailers are thinking about how they can avoid lower sales in key Halloween categories during this season.

According to a recent IRI survey of representative primary grocery shoppers collected from the IRI Consumer Network®, one in three households with kids says its child trick-or-treated last year but won’t be doing so this Halloween due to COVID-19. Also, more than half of shoppers who usually buy Halloween candy/treats to give out to others say they plan to buy less this year. There are several reasons why, and these changes are expected to negatively impact confections, single-serve snacks and even alcohol, as large gatherings with adults have also significantly decreased.

To keep sales going during what will be a markedly different holiday this year, it’s important to identify the consumers who will still be celebrating Halloween, including those who will be celebrating at home and in other new ways. In addition to changing trick-or-treat plans, almost one in three consumers plans to implement other changes to their Halloween celebrations this year, including by adding fun activities such as more decorating and crafting. This can provide brands and retailers with some ideas for who is best to target with advertising and offers, as well as the correct messaging and creative uses for specific products during the Halloween shopping weeks.  


For example, with consumer interest in baking having exploded since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, there is likely to be more Halloween baking happening at home this year, especially with the children in the house. Consumers who have bought baking items recently can be targeted for Halloween baking messages specifically. For those adults who purchase adult beverages, they may not be attending a big party this year, but they may still want to celebrate Halloween with a few family or friends at home.

At IRI, we have several lifestyle verified audiences who can help you target your messages more precisely and relevantly. You can reach households based on specific lifestyle and interest-based purchase behavior, including purchases in the weeks leading up to holidays and other events, and other key product purchase patterns. This helps to activate purchasers in certain areas of the store as they are about to stock up on select items or categories. Examples of these audiences, both for Halloween and the holiday and winter season, include:

Halloween Shoppers Those who over-index on spend for total candy in the weeks leading up to Halloween

COVID-Stock-Up Halloween Shoppers – Halloween shoppers who dramatically increased their spend during the COVID-19 stock-up period (March-April 2020)    

Adult Beverage Halloween Celebrators – Halloween shoppers who shop beer, wine and spirits

Halloween Family Bakers – Halloween shoppers who shop the baking aisle and have children in the house

Sweet Tooths
The top 30% of buyers of candy, the cookies category (under cookies and crackers), frozen desserts, refrigerated desserts and the pastry/doughnuts category

Immunity Boosters Buyers of Emergen-C, Airborne and other immunity-boosting supplements and beverages/smoothies in the latest 52 weeks

Cold & Flu Preppers Shoppers who over-index on spend for cold, allergy and sinus products and cough syrup/drops during November – January

Thanksgiving Hosts Buyers who over-index on spend across turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams, stuffing, cranberry dressing, gravy, etc., in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving

COVID-19 has changed everything. But targeting the right consumers with the right messages at the right time remains as important as ever. When you tailor your marketing campaigns toward households that have a proven purchase history in a particular product or category, you are more relevant to those consumers and you are using your marketing resources more efficiently for a better return.

Doing this is certain to make for a less scary Halloween. Saleswise anyway.


For more information on targeting the right consumers for your campaigns this holiday season, read more about IRI Audiences and/or reach out to us at










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