Food & Beverage

Millennials, High Earners and Parents Embrace Variety in Halloween Treats

Those most likely to hand out Halloween candy are also passing out healthier snacks and toys to trick-or-treaters, writes food & beverage analyst Emily Moquin

Image of a mother and child dressed up for Halloween
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Chloe Phan

Candy continues to define Halloween, but variety-loving and health-conscious consumers are adding more options to their trick-or-treat selections. Brands and retailers should prepare for this expansion of choice to continue, driven by the holiday’s biggest celebrators.

Halloween is back in a big way in 2022. After two years of more muted pandemic-influenced celebrations, consumers are looking forward to a Halloween that is less clouded by coronavirus concerns. 

The share of all U.S. adults planning to celebrate the October holiday reached 62% this year, marking a return to 2019 levels. The hallmark Halloween activity, trick-or treating, is also back on the agenda. Roughly 4 in 5 parents say they plan to let their children participate, a 12 percentage point climb from 2021 and also on par with the pre-pandemic share.

As decorations, costumes and candy are added to shoppers’ carts in preparation for the return of a fun-filled holiday, new items may make their way in alongside these traditional Halloween provisions — an emerging trend is that some consumers are looking for more variety and choice in what they’re passing out to trick-or-treaters. 

Candy remains a favorite treat to pass out, and many consumers plan to buy more this year

The return of Halloween celebrations and trick-or-treating means more candy, of course. More people are planning to hand out candy, and anticipated spending is higher as well. 

The share of all U.S. adults who plan to hand out candy this year increased 8 points over last year, and relatedly, the share of Halloween celebrators planning to spend $21 or more on candy increased 7 points. But as people fill up children’s Halloween baskets this year, many are also adding alternatives, like savory snacks and toys, to the mix.

Share of Halloween celebrators who plan to spend the following on candy:

Surveys conducted Oct. 1-5, 2021, and Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2022, among roughly 1,300 U.S. adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-3 percentage points.

This higher spending is largely a factor of more people planning to celebrate Halloween and participate in trick-or-treating. Last year, with fewer planning to celebrate, a larger share planned to spend $10 or less — or nothing at all — on candy. But the increase in anticipated spending is also likely driven by inflation in the candy aisle to some extent.

Alternative trick-or-treat options are emerging, driven by broader health and wellness goals  

Generation, income, parental status and community type are all related to how likely a person is to participate in the predominant Halloween activity. Gen Z adults (70%), millennials (76%), higher-income consumers (76%), parents (79%), and urban (65%) and suburban (67%) dwellers are most likely to say they will hand something out to trick-or-treaters. 

Candy is far and away the top choice across every demographic. However, there are emerging alternatives — niche to be sure, but more popular with the same demographics that are most likely to participate in trick-or-treating. In fact, around a quarter (26%) of those handing something out plan to offer options that aren’t candy. 

Share of those handing out trick-or-treats who plan to give out each of the following:

Survey conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2022, among 1,417 U.S. adults who plan to hand something out to trick-or-treaters, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

Longer term, health and wellness trends underscore the staying power of these options. Health is the top-cited reason for handing out alternatives to candy. Among those Halloween celebrators who are planning to hand out other options, just over half (51%) said having a healthier alternative to candy is a reason, and 44% said they prefer not to give candy to children in the interest of health. This is in line with larger healthy eating goals — 35% of U.S. adults said they were looking to reduce their sugar intake in September.

To be clear, this is not a complete rejection of Halloween as a candy-centric holiday. The emphasis is on variety and options. Most (73%) who plan to hand out something other than candy also plan to offer candy. And, while health may be a key driver, that shouldn’t be interpreted as a strike against the fun factor. For the most part, this is a case of consumers looking for balance and moderation by adding items that are just as fun without the sugar rush. Many young trick-or-treaters are likely to be just as excited to immediately unwrap a glow stick or bring a Halloween-themed eraser to school the next day as they are to dive into their pile of candy.

The groups more likely to hand out candy alternatives

Digging deeper, we uncovered key demographic differences connected with a person being more likely to hand out a candy alternative this Halloween. Age, attitudes toward parenting, income and food allergies in the household are all related to handing out other trick-or-treat options. 

 

  • Younger generations seek variety: Both members of variety-seeking and experience-oriented generations, millennials and Gen Z adults are more likely than their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts to hand out candy alternatives.
  • Helicopter parents aim to drive healthy choices: Helicopter parents have a reputation for being controlling, and that nature is likely translating to their Halloween treats. To measure which survey respondents are helicopter parents, we developed a scale based on responses to value statements around parenting style, where those higher up on the scale were in stronger agreement with values consistent with helicopter parenting. The results of our analysis indicate that the higher parents score on the helicopter parent scale, the more likely they are to be planning to hand out alternatives to candy on Halloween.
  • Higher earners are best able to provide options: Those with a higher income are more likely to say they’ll be handing out other options. Consumers at the highest end of income scale tend to be more focused on health and wellness generally and most likely feel they can afford to add extra options, like small toys, to a trick-or-treater’s basket.
  • Food allergy parents strive to keep their kids safe: Not only do many types of candy contain allergens, such as nuts, but many that don’t directly contain allergens are made in factories alongside allergens, making them unsafe for some allergic individuals as well. As those with allergies in the household are likely more conscious of the stressors surrounding edible treats, they are more likely to hand out other options.

Each of the above findings are still significant in our analysis, even when we take into account other factors that may be related to preferences for candy alternatives, like generation, income, attitudes toward parenting, allergies in the household and community type. 

As the demographic groups most likely to leave their porch lights lit on Halloween night reach for more variety and are influenced by longer-term health and wellness trends, brands and retailers can expect growth of alternative treats to continue. The good news is that Halloween candy is one category millennials haven’t killed — yet.