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Nothing spooky about the business opportunities

All Hallows’ Eve means costumes, candy and jack o’ lanterns. And also a booming business for those supplying us with all our Halloween requirements

Indeed, when it comes to one of the mainstays of the season, confectionaries, October is one of Canada’s most lucrative and demanding months of the year for businesses, second only to Christmas, which takes the cake.

According to a Statistics Canada survey of the country’s large retailers, there is a predicable October spike in candy, confectionery and snack food sales each year – and that demand has only become greater over the years. In 1997, the survey showed sales of $147,000 in October for those sugary goods; in 2016, those sales hit $392,000 in unadjusted dollars.

Still, at the Elmira Foodland, co-owner Doug Pagett notes that candies are not quite as coveted as they once were.

“It’s slowed somewhat because there are fewer kids,” he said. “We live out here and we don’t get nearly the amount of kids we got ten years ago, that’s for sure.”

Looking at the census data available, while the number of children in that prime trick-or-treating age bracket, between 5 to 14 years old, has grown in Elmira, it has not been by much. In 2011, there were 1,265 children in that age range; in 2016, that number was 1,325 – only a 4.5 per cent change. Compare that with growth in children Woolwich Township as a whole. From 2011 to 2016, the number of kids in this same age bracket grew 12.5 per cent to reach 3,545 last year.

Besides that, trends in consumer culture have changed, suggests Pagett.

“People are just more cautious about letting their kids go out too, for use. And there are more places, you know, more churches having Halloween parties and that kind of stuff instead of letting their kids go out,” he said.

Parents, moreover, are being more mindful of the amount of sugar in their children’s’ diets, and vendors are reacting to that change.

Doug Pagett of the Foodland supermarket in Elmira has seen a shift in demand for Halloween-related treats. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]
“The trends are changing on what they’re producing and making too – little packs of Goldfish crackers instead of candy and that kind of stuff. So the vendors are changing what they’re putting together for it too, so that part of the business has changed a bit, but the old standard stuff goes pretty good,” he said.

“[Halloween has] slowed somewhat but it’s still a big chunk of the business, there is no doubt about that.”

But while candy is good just about any time of the year, the same can’t be said for the classic pumpkin, which sees its moment in the spotlight during the October harvest, and then dives back into relative obscurity for the rest of the year.

“I’m always nervous for a couple days going into Halloween because I think I have tons left. It’s amazing when you come in in the morning and it’s gone because so many people are last-minute on it. It’s unbelievable,” said Pagett with a laugh.

That’s a good thing too because after Halloween the demand for the perishable product drops to nil, as Hugh Nauman, co-owner of Nauman’s Fresh from the Farm Produce in St. Clements, points out.

“Now we’re just into Halloween and once that’s over you are stuck with whatever you have left,” said Nauman.

The demand hits in two waves, he notes: in the lead-up to Thanksgiving and then Halloween, and then it immediately dips afterwards.

Year-to-year, the demand has remained fairly consistent, though he adds that because they sell outdoors, business is very much dependant on the weather.

Pagett concurs: “You sell a ton [of pumpkins] before Thanksgiving [with] people decorating, and then you get another good run of them like Halloween week when people are buying them to carve.”

But afterwards? “Oh they’re not worth a nickel the day after Halloween. You might as well throw them out in the field and let them rot the day after Halloween, that’s for sure.”

That’s why businesses will try to sell out before the Halloween day cut-off, he noted.

On the production side of business, pumpkin yield in the country has grown sizably in the last ten years. In 2007, numbers from Statistics Canada show that total production of pumpkins in the country has doubled from 40,000 tonnes in 2007 to 81,000 in 2016.

In Ontario however, which accounts for more than half of all pumpkin production in the country, the numbers have actually tripled. In 2016, the province produced 44,000 tonnes of pumpkins, compared with 17,000 in 2007, even as the acreage devoted to pumpkin growing has remained more or less unchanged over the same period of time.

Locally, Nauman, who grows the pumpkins that he sells, says that the number of pumpkins per acre dropped because of the lack of heat this season. The pumpkins themselves, however, have swelled in size because of the rain.

So all and all, Halloween is an excellent, if nerve-wracking, time to be in the candy and squash business.

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