This Halloween, at Roni-Sue's Chocolates in New York City, the eyes have it. The eyeball truffles, that is.
The spooky confection is a popular seasonal item at Roni-Sue's, where everything is handmade. Owner and operator Rhonda Kave told Food Dive the eyeballs have been a big hit with customers — particularly with members of the medical profession — ever since debuting at her craft chocolate shop a few years back.
"This year, we used them at a big chocolate show a couple weeks ago," she said. "People seem to really enjoy the childlike experience of it. You bite into it and there's this gushing pomegranate gel and they really love it." She added that the gel contains pomegranate vodka.
The eyeball truffles are one of many candy products this year targeting those who have long outgrown trick-or-treating. Other premium Halloween goodies not designed to be dropped into plastic pumpkins include Sugarfina's Spooky Sweets — specialty treats inside a little coffin-shaped black box — and Godiva's indulgent Spooky Chocolate Treats Gift Set and a Pumpkin Spice Truffle Flight. Not to be outdone, See's Candies has featured a set of five Halloween Orange & Chocolate Creams decorated with candy ghosts and smiling pumpkin faces.
According to upscale candy retailer Sugarfina, the company's Halloween sales this year were four times higher than last year. Customers loved its Coffin Candy Bento Box so much — with Zombie Brains, Sugar Skulls and Pumpkin Patch candies tucked inside — that it sold out after the first week of October.
Halloween candy is a $383-million business in the U.S., and not all is being handed out to the little superheroes and princesses who come to the door asking for treats on Halloween night. Confectioners have discovered that sweet treats for grown-ups are also rather lucrative. While Food Dive was unable to get sales statistics from several leading candy makers, some of their fancier products offered online were sold out a week before the holiday.
But while retired trick-or-treaters are making inroads into the holiday, kids do still rule. The top four marketers of Halloween chocolates in the U.S. — Hershey, Mars, Nestle and Lindt & Sprüngli — make up almost 98% of the segment’s dollar sales, according to Packaged Facts. But in volume, Mars leads and Hershey comes in second, mainly because of Mars' popular Halloween candy variety bags, which consumers like for the choice and convenience.
The national sweet tooth
Spending on this year's spooky holiday — including candy, costumes and home decor — is expected to hit a record $9.1 billion, according to an online survey of about 7,000 adults by the National Retail Federation and research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics. That represents a 8.3% jump from the $8.4 billion Americans spent on Halloween last year, which was also a record.
The U.S. confectionery industry rang up nearly $18.6 billion in sales in the most recent figures from Packaged Facts, for a 1.5% increase within the past year ending July 10. Rising sales aren't due to rising prices either. According to Bloomberg, candy and gum prices actually dropped a bit last Halloween for the first time since 2013.
On a per-household basis, Americans fork over about $86 for all Halloween-related items — costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards — with about $25 of that going to candy, according to the NRF/Prosper Insights online survey.
"That's a few bags," noted Pamela Goodfellow, Prosper Insights's principal analyst and consumer insights director. Companies are targeting more candy varieties at adults these days in order to bolster sales during holidays and the rest of the year, she told Food Dive.
"For a lot of retailers, it's another chance for them to create that touchpoint for consumers. If they can gain interest during the Halloween season, get them coming in the door, that's a win for the retailer," Goodfellow explained.
She puts the adult Halloween candy trend down to nostalgia for childhood, when trick-or-treating often resulted in a big pile of sweets, and also because the seasonal treats present a handy excuse to break from everyday routine.
"We try to be so good, and when you're just indulging in certain things — an expensive cup of coffee, or premium candy or a manicure — once in a while consumers just feel that they've earned it," Goodfellow said.
Whenever indulgence is mentioned, the subject of chocolate can't be far behind. Chocolate in all forms remains the star of the spooky season, with 68% of people calling it their No. 1 Halloween treat, according to the National Confectioners Association.
In second place is candy corn, with 10% enjoying it the most. Chewy candy varieties are next, preferred by 7% of people, along with gummy candy. The remainder includes people who prefer gum or mints, lollipops, caramels and licorice. However, more than one quarter of adults noted that their favorite type of candy has changed over time, the NCA found.
Halloween-loving adults aren't just noshing on premium candies, either. According to an NCA statistic, about 70% of parents confess to sharing candy from their child’s haul.
The gift's the thing
Adult-style Halloween candy is delivered as a party gift, taken to share at office parties and restaurants, and given to friends and loved ones. It's not sent as often as candy for Valentine's Day and other major holidays, but it's still a growing trend.
"Chocolates are a real acceptable gift, and craft chocolates especially are becoming more and more popular as a gift-giving item," Kave said based on her experience at the shop. "It speaks to the taste of the giver and the person receiving it. It's a shorthand way of saying, 'Food is important to me and I wanted to give you something special.'"
While Halloween is growing into more of a candy-exchanging holiday for grown-ups, it lags behind the major collective sugar hits provided by Easter, Christmas and Valentine's Day.
Halloween has always been a big thing in New York City, with a major parade, costume parties and other holiday-themed celebrations, Kave told Food Dive. Then there are all those privately held events at restaurants, workplaces and homes where sweet treats can add a special note.
"We've always been about celebrating Halloween," she said, "so adults are always looking for a treat they can bring that's a little different. I think it's something that's fun to bring to people and that people really appreciate."
Given the popularity of her eyeball truffles, Kave said she's considering developing something similar for the younger set.
"I love doing the eyeballs because they're so fun and quirky, but they do take a lot of work," she said. "I might make a kids' version without alcohol, say with raspberry jam."