Halloween candy sales already starting three months before Halloween

IOWA CITY — How early is too early? The 4th of July was just a few weeks ago, yet some Iowa grocery stores are already offering spooky Halloween decorations and big bags of trick-or-treat candy.

Professor Peggy Stover, who directs the University of Iowa’s Marketing Institute and spent 25 years in the grocery industry, says stores are looking for any angle they can find to scare up profits.

“In the old days, when there was a major holiday coming, a month, maybe a month and a half in advance was pretty typical,” Stover says. “Now, we’re seeing — Halloween is a good example. We’re still in July and we are seeing Halloween merchandise in the stores, so it seems like every year it gets earlier and earlier.”

There’s even a marketing term for this phenomenon — holiday creep. Back-to-school sales started at some Iowa retailers in June, and Stover says she wouldn’t be too surprised if we saw Christmas ornaments appear on the shelves in August.

“We’re seeing a faster acceleration being driven mainly by manufacturers and retailers,” Stover says. “In the grocery business, the margins are so thin that anything that they can do to increase the profitability of their operations, I can’t blame them, they’re going to take advantage of it.”

Some people might buy Christmas gifts early and hide them until December, but Stover says nobody’s buying Halloween candy in July who’s intent on saving it until October.

“A lot of manufacturers are probably offering incentives to entice that impulse purchase,” Stover says, “you know, the I see it, I’m going to throw it in the buggy, I wasn’t really looking for candy, but there it is, front and center, toss it in the cart.”

Consumers may be mystified when they run across holiday items so far out of context, but she doubts few would actually file a complaint with the manager, not that it would likely have much impact — or would it?

“It’s going to take consumers to tell retailers and manufacturers, ‘enough is enough’,” Stover says. “Let’s go back to being more reasonable in when we’re going to be merchandising holiday items. I remember last year, I think it was January, right after the holidays, I was already seeing Saint Patrick’s.”

She says the best way for Iowans to send a message about Halloween in July sales is to resist buying the products.