In case you missed it, October 15 was the 100th anniversary of the “Sweetest Day.”
Never heard of it? That’s probably because it was a marketing ploy from the candy industry that never really took off – well, actually it morphed to something that really, really took off.
The Atlantic wrote an historical perspective on the topic years ago, which unearthed some interesting materials from the National Confectioners Association, including this 1916 admission in an internal memo among industry leaders:
The only motive of the [NCA Executive Committee] is to aid every Manufacturer, Jobber and Retailer in increasing his profits through increased sales on “Candy Day.” …
It’s simply asking you if you want to make some extra money, and if you do, you are requested to go ahead and push this “Candy Day” idea.
The Atlantic concluded, “There’s no getting around it. Candy Day was an entirely invented holiday with one purpose: to sell candy.”
Even though the candy industry took out advertisements and enlisted celebrities to promote Candy Day, it never amounted to much. So it was rebranded “Sweetest Day” in 1921, but again to little fanfare outside of a couple of Midwestern cities.
Not to be deterred, the candy industry focused its attention on another October holiday: Halloween. The Atlantic published an interesting piece on this topic as well, explaining:
It was during the 1950s that candy made decisive inroads in dominating Halloween…. Small, inexpensive candies became popular, and major candy manufacturers began making smaller candy bars or bags of candy corn.
Through the 1960s, it was still conceivable that some other treat might be offered. It wasn’t until the 1970s that candy came to be seen as the only legitimate treat. And while the candy industry reaped the benefits, the immediate impetus was not brilliant marketing so much as rising fears that unwrapped or homemade Halloween treats posed risks of tampering and poisoning.
No matter the reason, the candy industry stumbled onto a goldmine in its quest to find a holiday to fill the sales gap in between Christmas and Easter. And that goldmine is getting sweeter and sweeter every year.
While we don’t have candy sales data dating back to the early days of Halloween, we have been keeping track since 2005. Over that time, Halloween candy sales have steadily climbed from $2.09 billion to an estimated, all-time high of $2.7 billion in 2016.
That increase stands in sharp contrast to the cost of Halloween candy’s main ingredient: sugar. Back in October 2005, candy companies were paying 40 cents for a pound of sugar. Today, they are paying just 28.5 cents. In other words, confectioners are spending less to make Halloween candy while making a lot more on Halloween candy sales.
That is not meant as a criticism of the candy industry, which should seek out higher and higher profits. But Big Candy’s good news and big profits should be remembered by lawmakers as candy lobbyists trot out their annual Halloween-themed attacks on no-cost U.S. sugar policy.