As most people here know, Hallowe’en has its origins in Celtic traditions.
Once a pagan event marking the end of the harvest season – and the point at which our world came close to the ‘Otherworld’ – it is today a global celebration of all things ghoulish.
With that has come an explosion in Hallowe’en-themed products and events – and a significant expansion in what it means to mark the occasion.
When did Hallowe’en become big business?
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It’s a hard one to pinpoint, really.
For most people – and certainly those aged 30 and above – it’s probably remembered as a fairly basic event.
People might put on a home-made costume, grab their shopping bag and go knocking around the neighbours’ houses for some fruit, nuts and – maybe – sweets too.
There would have been apple bobbing, bonfires and fireworks around the place – but that was about it.
However, over the past decade or so, it seems to have developed into a major point in the events calendar.
Of course it’s stil nowhere near the scale of Christmas, but it has turned into a week-long event – beyond the day itself – in much the same way.
It seems we have the Americans to thank (or blame) for that, because they’ve been doing Hallowe’en on a much bigger scale than us for a much longer time.
So we have this interesting thing where Irish emigrants brought Hallowe’en to the Americans; they embraced it, adapted it and turned it up to eleven – and now we’ve essentially imported their version back and are making it our own once again.
So what kind of money are we talking about?
Sticking with America for the minute – because Hallowe’en might be ours historically, but in terms of spectacle and spending it’s really theirs now.
The National Retail Federation in the US is predicting that $10.6 billion will be spent around Hallowe’en this year, which is $500m than was spent last year.
And it’s more than double what was spent in the country in 2007 – so a dramatic increase in spending in just 15 years.
One of the things that’s expected to boost spending this year is the fact that Hallowe’en is on a Monday – which will probably mean people are doing lots of Hallowe’en-y things on the weekend leading into it, as well as the day itself.
Of the $10.6 billion that’s expected to be spent, around $2.9 billion is predicted to go towards costumes alone. Of that, $700m is expected to be spent on pet costumes.
According to the survey, 68% of American consumers plan to participate in Hallowe’en this year.
That’s back to where it was pre-pandemic – and, in a country that seems to be bitterly divided on most things, it’s probably one of the few events that a sizable majority want to get behind.
What about here in Ireland?
It’s a bit harder to find figures on Irish spending – there have been a few surveys conducted over the years, but nothing since the start of the pandemic.
Looking at the most recent one, a survey by iReach conducted in 2019, and it expected €49m to be spent by Irish consumers on Hallowe’en.
That’s actually down on previous years – in 2017 it was around €65m.
So on a per-capita basis, it means spending of just €10 per person – compared to more than $30 per person in America.
But more people do seem to get involved here than in America – around 75% of people here do something around Hallowe’en, according to one survey.
And every year we do seem to expand what it means to ‘do’ Hallowe’en too – something that’s plain to see by the number of houses that are decked out in Hallowe’en decorations.
But the big difference between Ireland and the US is that we’re not quite as serious about Hallowe’en as they are.
We buy the costumes and decorations, but we don’t necessarily go all-out on them.
The iReach survey from 2019 found that, of the people here who were going to dress up, 21% were going to make their own costume, 17% were going to buy them at a discount shop – and 13% were going to use an old one.
So more than half of all people were finding ways to avoid spending big money on a costume – compared to the US expectation of $2.9 billion being spent on costumes this year alone.
But you can see just by walking into any shop at the moment, it’s a big deal for retailers…
Definitely – for weeks now most supermarkets have had sizable Hallowe’en displays and Hallowe’en-related products in a prominent position.
Not to mention the pop-up Hallowe’en shops that always appear at this time of year, which are entirely dedicated towards Hallowe’en fare.
So it is a major sales event for retailers – and that’s reflected in some of the sales figures at this time of year.
For example, consultancy firm Kantar said that there was nearly €47.5m worth of confectionary sales in supermarkets in the four weeks leading up to Hallowe’en last year.
Some of that would be made up of your normal, weekly purchases of sweets and chocolates – but the number is always significantly inflated as a result of Hallowe’en.
For example, in 2020 – when trick or treating wasn’t happening – sales of multipack sweets fell by 40% in the lead up to Hallowe’en. They would largely be bought in to have for kids knocking on the door.
Separately, in the month leading up to Hallowe’en last year, Irish supermarkets sold more than €1.9m worth of pumpkins.
That figure seems to have jumped dramatically in recent years – it’s about €500,000 more than was taken in in 2019.
Tesco say they’re expecting to sell somewhere in the region of 200,000 pumpkins this year.
They’re seeing demand for everything from little small ones, through to extra large ones, and the American-style gourds that come in all different colours too.
Last year Supervalu sold more than 92,000 pumpkins – and that was up 17% on 2020.
So you’re looking at somewhere in the region of 300,000 pumpkins across just two supermarket chains.
And while Hallowe’en may be very different to what it was 20 years ago, some of the old habits seem to be hanging on too.
Tesco says it’s seeing strong demand for monkey nuts and barmbrack so far this year. Meanwhile Supervalu said it saw sales of ‘Hallowe’en nuts’ rise by 11% last year
Apparently Tesco are also expecting to sell 20,000 glow sticks this year – presumably they’re in-demand for those DIY costume-makers!
Besides sweets and costumes, where else are we spending our money?
Hallowe’en has kind of evolved into a season of its own – rather than just one day.
And around that you have lots of businesses and events that have sprung up, built entirely around that fact.
That includes the many, many Hallowe’en-themed destinations and events that are dotted around the country at this time of year.
Some of that will be year-round attractions that add in a Hallowe’en theme – a lot of pet farms do that, so does the likes of Tayto Park.
There’s also a drive-in cinema in Dublin that is showing a range of scary films this month, too.
And some of these Hallowe’en events are family-friendly, and some that are more historical – centred around the old Celtic celebration.
And then there are the ones that tap into the horror side of things, too.
These are the places that are like an abandoned building or barn, where you walk around and have people in costumes jump out at you and chase you around.
Some of these cost upwards of €30 a ticket – and they run all month.
So assuming they are drawing in one or two thousand people over the course of that run, it represents a lot of revenue being generated in one place.
How important is Hallowe’en for the film industry?
It’s quite significant.
Of course you can enjoy a scary film at any time of year, but Hallowe’en is when people really tend to seek out scary films and TV shows.
That’s evident from the ‘most popular’ lists on streaming services at the moment – not to mention the new releases in cinemas.
Hallowe’en films and TV shows are popular for a number of reasons, not least because they can be done for relatively low costs.
Some of the most popular horror films of the past decade relied upon upcoming or less well-known actors, writers and directors. They don’t necessarily need to have lots of expensive CGI, either, and they might be set in fairly simple locations – perhaps even just a house or building.
A good example of the economics of the horror film is ‘It’ – the first part of the remake of the Stephen King novel.
It cost $35m to make; a lot of money, obviously. But compare that to a blockbuster like the last Spiderman film, which cost $200m, and it seems cheap.
‘It’ took in $700m at the box office, the highest grossing horror film of all time, so it represented a huge return on the investment.
And when you have a horror film that’s a hit, it almost guarantees you’re going to have people coming back to it every Hallowe’en until the end of time.
You’re probably going to have never-ending sequels, too
The ‘Halloween’ series itself is a good example.
Including the latest installment, there have been 13 of those films since the original debuted in 1978.
Some have done better than others, but so far the series has grossed around $750m at the box office (and that’s before this year’s film starts to generate revenue).
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