Newswise — According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend $66.28 on Halloween this year. Second only to costumes, candy eats up the largest chunk of this budget with American families spending an average of $22 each Halloween on confections.
When trick-or-treating entered the American scene in the 1920s, neighbors gave children items like apples, pastries, breads and even money. So why, 40 years later, are there $1 billion in candy sales each Halloween? How has food marketing taken over this tradition?
“Companies went after Halloween candy a long time ago,” says Nancy Childs, Ph.D., professor of food marketing. “Candy companies are active and aggressive marketers who offer convenient, pre-packaged treats to fulfill the tradition; Halloween is now a model for other holidays — candy baskets for Easter, candy canes for Christmas, holiday-themed M&Ms, chocolates for Valentine’s Day.”
Childs, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, has extensively researched the obesity epidemic in America. She says that when Americans began rewarding children with candy, sometime in the late 19th century, it further embedded a culture of fun and positive emotional relationships with sweet treats.
To illustrate her point, Childs demonstrates a candy-association exercise she uses in her classes at the University. Each student is given a Hershey kiss and asked to vocalize their associations with the chocolate candy. “The students are always amazed at how many vivid and emotional memories they have wrapped inside a Hershey kiss – childhood, holidays, favorite times, grandparents,” she says. “This emotional connection is very real.”
Childs encourages people to enjoy sweet treats in moderation. “The fun occasions, like Halloween, should be enjoyed for just what they are,” she says. “Fun and occasional.”
Childs currently serves on the USDA’s National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board (NAREEEAB) as the national representative for food retailing and marketing.