What do Valentine’s Day, Easter, summer, Halloween and Christmas all have in common? If you guessed “They are all marketing opportunities for the candy industry”, then you win a Reese’s peanut butter heart, or a Reese’s peanut butter egg. You can have your choice, because as I write this in late January, both Valentine and Easter treats are available at a store near you.
If you find such overlapping holiday marketing bizarre, you just haven’t been paying attention.
Candy companies like Hershey’s (which owns Reese’s, and manufactures chocolates for Cadbury, which is owned by Mondelēz), Mars (which owns M&M and Dove), and Just Born (owner of Peeps) have managed to make marketing seasonal candy, especially to kids, a year round event. Every day’s a holiday, and some days are more than one.
Not so long ago, Halloween candy didn’t arrive in stores until the first week of October, but now Reese’s Pumpkins and Cadbury Screme Eggs show up as early as July. The phenomenon known as “Christmas Creep” puts Christmas candy on store shelves even before Halloween.
This year, Valentine’s candy began appearing in mid December. Do we really need pastel colored Conversation Hearts before Santa has had a chance to hand out the candy canes?
So it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find chocolate Easter eggs already competing for shelf space with Valentine’s goodies, a good 10 weeks before Easter. After all, it’s been a nonstop holiday candy marketing fest ever since the Halloween candy rolled into stores in last summer; those early Easter chocolates ensure that kids won’t be spared a single day of holiday candy marketing from July right up through the Easter Bunny’s visit in April.
But of course candy marketing doesn’t end with Easter. In the spring, M&M touts their personalized graduation candies ready to be customized with the graduate’s name or face. These days, with parents urged to celebrate Kindergarten or 5th grade promotion with all the pomp and circumstance once reserved for high school or college graduation, it’s a pretty easy guess who the target market is for those graduation candies.
Then there’s summer. Peeps has a full line of summer products, including red white and blue spangled Patriotic Chicks and Peeps S’mores Pops. Summer also brings candy promotions in conjunction with kids’ movie releases. Who can forget tie ins like the Strawberry Peanut Butter M&Ms with “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, or the light-up Kryptonite candy with “Superman Returns”?
And then before you know it, it’s July and time to start promoting the Halloween candy, again, and the nonstop candy carousel spins on and on, until it’s all just a blur of chocolate and caramel and marshmallow and sugar.
As Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest told me, “I love chocolate as much as anyone, but it’s hard to keep it as an occasional treat given how it’s marketed. It’s always candy season. Retail displays entice us to think that it’s a special time to eat candy, but it’s always a “special time” — from Halloween straight to Christmas to Valentine’s Day to Easter. Companies are even using back-to-school candy promotions.”
What’s the point, exactly? It’s not like these holiday and special promotion candies are offered in place of all of the regular confectionary products on store shelves every day of the year. At the Walgreen’s in my neighborhood, there is always a regular full-length candy aisle and also now a second, full-length Valentine’s candy aisle (which used to be the Christmas candy aisle, and before that the Halloween candy aisle.)
There was a time when holiday candy was special and exciting. My kids looked forward all year to the few weeks in the spring when yellow Peeps showed up like newly hatched chicks, so that we could buy a few boxes for Peeps jousting; now that Peeps are available year round, jousting has lost its thrill.
When holiday candy arrived shortly before the holiday, there was also a sense that it was fresher and tastier than the regular candy that sat on shelves all year round. But how fresh can a Reese’s peanut butter egg be in April if it’s been sitting on a store shelf since January?
I’m hardly one to rail against candy. On Halloween, I’ve been known to offer every middle school trick-or-treater a choice – they can have any one candy from my bowl, or they can trade me one Reese’s they got from someone else for any 5 candies from my bowl.
It’s just that the availability of themed holiday treats has expanded from a few weeks just before the holiday, to a full 3 month season before the holiday. A Reese’s egg is no different than a regular Reese’s cup; it costs about the same, and it tastes about the same. The only reason to buy one is that, unlike the cup, the egg is only around for a short time.
Except it isn’t. Now I can buy the egg even before I’ve bought my Conversation Hearts.
Listen up, candy industry – we don’t want Halloween candy in July, or Valentine hearts before Christmas! It’s the anticipation of these treats, and their limited availability, that makes them worth seeking out and buying. Makes them taste better, too.
Studies show Americans are trying to eat better. Too much sugar, it is becoming clear, is shortening our lives and making us sick. Is it too much to ask that the candy industry dial back the 365 day a year holiday season, and give us Valentine candy in February and not December??
Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at PEACHSF.org. Follow her on Twitter @nestwife, or read more than 140 characters of her writing in her complete archive.Soda Tax/Food Politics