Tracking Tricks and Treats

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Oct. 30 2001 11:46 AM

Tracking Tricks and Treats

Five kids and one adult rank Halloween candies.

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The distinction between "candy" and "Halloween candy" can be summed up this way: The latter is exactly the same as the former, only there's more of it. According to the National Confectioners Association, whose Candy USA is almost everything you could ever want in a Web site devoted to the subject of candy in the U.S.A., Halloween is the busiest candy-buying season of the year. (Easter is a pale shadow in comparison, moving a mere $1,856,000,000 of sweets last year in comparison to Halloween's mighty $1,983,000,000.)

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Halloween also leads the way in mind share, according to an NCA press release: "Parents and Kids Agree: Halloween is a Fun Family Tradition." The NCA isn't just whistling Dixie here, either. They have stats to back up their startling assertion: "In a recent survey, 81 percent of moms and dads said trick-or-treating is a fun tradition for their kids." (What about the remaining 19? They're probably the ones handing out the "Halloween Is Satan's Holiday" pamphlets.) Eighty-three percent of kids 6 to 11 cite candy and gum as their favorite treats. Small toys "ranked a distant second," garnering just 2 percent of the vote, although the NCA doesn't say whether this takes into account the subsampling who believed that small toys are candy.

All this is well and good, of course. But the NCA is woefully uninformative when questioned about which are the most popular brands of candy at Halloween time. "The same as the rest of the year," an association press person snapped when asked, as if for the millionth time. So I took it upon myself to perform a small, highly unscientific test.

A Note on Methodology

First I bought 26 different kinds of candy from the Halloween display at my local supermarket. This is the total figure, which includes three varieties of Reese's, two of Twizzlers, two of M&M's, three of Hershey's, and two of candy corn. Within this group were represented all 10 of the best-selling candies in America as ranked by the NCA, with the exception of Mentos, which I excluded because their commercials are creepy and disturbing. Then I separated the candies into four groups:

  • The Chocolate. This group included Nestle Crunch, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Almond Joy, M&M's, Snickers, Reese's, Kit Kat, Hershey's Kisses, Hershey's Milk Chocolate, Hershey's Special Dark, Krackel, Mr. Goodbar, and Creepy Peepers, which are milk chocolate eyeballs filled with caramel goo.
  • The "Fruit"- and "Vegetable"-Based. Included in this group were Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, Life Savers, Pumpkin Peeps, and candy corn.
  • The Fruit. This group consists entirely of raisins. They were included because, while not technically a candy, anecdotal information suggests they are the most widely distributed and also the most widely despised non-candy Halloween treat.
  • The Sweet and the Tart. This group consists of the eponymous SweeTarts and also Starbursts.

Next I assembled two tasting panels. The children's panel was made up of five kids, ages 3-1/2 to 9, who were convened in two separate groups. The adult's panel consisted of me.

The Results

Here are the panels' picks, in reverse order of popularity.

4) The Fruit Group. Hands down the least popular group, among both me and the kids. The sheer lack of variety here, Sun-Maid California Raisin Mini-Packs being the only choice, would have been enough to doom it to last place. The unanimous finding that raisins were repellent only sealed the deal. ("Yucky"—Maeve, age 3-1/2; "I'd give them to my mom"—Jack, age 9.) Confirming the inverse relationship between food value and deliciousness, raisins are unquestionably the most nutritious treat tested. (See Chart 1.) Their high concentration of carbohydrates and fruit sugars makes them a relatively efficient source of energy, they are fat- and sodium-free, and they entirely lack additives, the sole ingredient of the raisins tested being "California seedless raisins."

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