From chocolate dipped strawberries to edible hearts bearing romantic messages, consumers will spend an estimated $1.8 billion on candy alone this Valentine's Day, according to the the National Retail Federation.
But the love for romantic holiday is extending beyond the candy aisle as food and beverage makers look to cash in on a lucrative time of year where shoppers are more willing to open their wallets. The average American will spend $162 on gifts this year, totaling $20.7 billion in revenue, a 13% increase from a year ago.
"Food is the perfect gift because it satisfies all appetites regardless of the occasion. On Valentine’s Day, we buy jewelry and teddy bears as gifts for our sweetie and give cards to our friends and coworkers, but food is for everybody," Daniel Granderson, a spokesperson with Packaged Facts. "This is especially true as marketers become more creative with expanding the variety of Valentine’s Day food products that extend beyond the candy aisle to incorporate a wider range of delights.”
For shoppers planning a romantic home-cooked meal, Costco is offering heart-shaped four cheese ravioli while discounter Aldi has its own heart-shaped cheese products. Even Papa John’s is dishing up a heart-shaped pizza after posting strong sales with the pie in 2018.
Many snack food items also have been revamped for the holiday to come in single-serve pouches. This makes them a convenient choice for parents who send their kids to school with a Valentine for every child in the classroom. Some examples include Pirate’s Booty’s Be My Matey from Hershey, Welch’s heart-shaped fruit snacks, Jet-Puffed HeartMallows in an assortment of flavors from KraftHeinz, fun-pak sizes of Kellogg's Cheez-It crackers and Utz’s X and O shaped pretzel treat bags. Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot manufactured by General Mills are offering mini rolls with special "to" and "from" labels on the packaging.
At Kellogg, the cereal and snack maker previously offered Rice Krispie Treats packs for the season where kids and parents can write a note on a pink heart on the wrapper. This is the first year the company has offered a Valentine’s Day pack for Cheez-It.
"Much like Halloween, we know that Valentine’s Day treats have become a special part of sharing the holiday. We wanted to offer parents foods their kids can share that they know and love," Jeff Delonis, senior director of marketing for Cheez-It, said in an email. "With our Valentine’s Day products, we are appealing to parents who are looking for a special treat their kids can share with their friends from a brand they already love."
Even beverage makers are trying to capture a chunk of the revenue. Energy drink maker Red Bull released two special editions for Valentine’s Day in peach and sugarfree Pear. And Welch’s non-alcoholic sparkling rosé has been featured in Valentine’s Day product displays at retailers.
With a special dinner on the menu for many couples, alcohol companies have come out with unique flavors. Hard cider company Angry Orchard’s rosé blend and Ciroc’s Valentine’s glitter vodka can be found on shelves. Specialty cocktail gift set company Tipple Box is offering Valentine’s Day boxes for mixed drink enthusiasts. Lord Jones is even selling a limited edition Valentine’s Day CBD gumdrop set featuring passion fruit and raspberry flavors.
One is the loneliest number
The number of singles in America is climbing, totaling 45% of the adult population, according to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau. This could be a driving factor behind the decision by some CPG companies to deviate from the traditional chocolate and candy hearts — especially if they are not a sweets manufacturer. A 2017 study in the Journal of Women’s Health found the majority of those singles are women, and they’re healthier than ever before. Big Food increasingly may be looking to peddle better-for-you or smaller, bite-size options with fewer calories like Rice Krispies Treats Mini Squares.
“We tend to see more extravagant gifts like necklaces and rings broadcast in traditional advertising channels in the weeks before Valentine's Day, but data suggests that many of the the biggest holiday sales surges in fact come from CPG and grocery categories."
Founder and CEO, Stackline
Still, not everyone has time to hit the store for Valentine’s Day, or perhaps their loved one lives too far away. Seattle-based e-commerce data analytics company Stackline said the week of Valentine’s Day experiences a 163% increase in keyword searches referencing the holiday compared to the prior week.
"We tend to see more extravagant gifts like necklaces and rings broadcast in traditional advertising channels in the weeks before Valentine's Day, but data suggests that many of the the biggest holiday sales surges in fact come from CPG and grocery categories,” Michael Lagoni, Stackline's founder and CEO, told FoodDive. "We see very strong surges in retail sales across a whole number of categories outside of confectionary, including things like cookies, baking, cooking oils. For some of those categories, they see their highest peaks of the year around the week of Valentine’s Day.”
But simply introducing an item for Valentine's Day is not enough. If a retailer doesn’t spend the proper time and headway marketing the special holiday product, sales probably aren’t going to add up as the retailer hoped, he said.
“We see some brands that put a lot of marketing dollars into their holiday products, and they are successful at driving awareness," Lagoni said. "Others might spend a lot of time launching a gift package, but if they don’t support it with the right level of marketing then they don’t get the anticipated sales.”
Spreading the love
Stackline said five of the top non-traditional product categories see a 65% increase in average sales the week before Valentine's Day compared to the five preceding weeks. This includes necklaces, stuffed animals, rings, flowers, greeting cards and artificial plants. Three of the traditional categories — candy, chocolate, and cookies — experience an 80% increase on average. This suggests that although shoppers are receptive to non-confectionary Valentine’s Day gifts, ordering candy is still their top choice.
There are several food-focused items being offered online. Harry & David is offering a salsa pack while Starbucks' coffee and cocoa sampler basket is 20% off for a limited time. Hickory Farms slashed steak prices for a limited time in addition to offering Valentine’s Day-themed boxes of snack items.
"Food is the perfect gift because it satisfies all appetites regardless of the occasion. On Valentine’s Day, we buy jewelry and teddy bears as gifts for our sweetie and give cards to our friends and coworkers, but food is for everybody.”
Spokesperson, Packaged Facts
Despite reports suggesting that 2019 will see the highest spending for Valentine’s Day-related purchases, only 51% of the population plans to do something for cupid’s holiday, the lowest in a decade. The previous record low was 55% in 2018, the National Retail Federation said. This may be attributable once again to a rising number of singles.
Still, there are signs that more gifts may be going to individuals without a romantic tie, giving food and beverage makers a growing market opportunity.
“The vast majority of Valentine’s Day dollars are still spent on significant others, but there’s a big increase this year in consumers spreading the love to children, parents, friends and coworkers,” Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said in a statement. “With employment and income growing, consumers appear to be expanding the scope of who qualifies for a card or a box of candy.”