Suzanne Parnell smiles like a jack-o’-lantern when she talks about Halloween.
The homeowner, who lives in New Westminster B.C., about 20 kilometres southeast of downtown Vancouver, says she has been decorating her property for 34 years, going so far as to describe herself as “The Wicked Witch” of the city’s west end.
In 2022 more than 1,000 trick-or-treaters knocked on her door, braving a lawn full of skeletons and spiders in search of candy.
With all signs pointing to a similar stream of children and parents this year, she’s stocked up, purchasing 1,350 full-size chocolate bars ahead of Tuesday’s festivities.
But while Parnell and her husband have embraced an over-the-top approach — even building their own decorative stockades, electric chairs and guillotines — she admits the cost of many Halloween staples, including candy, is creeping and crawling ever higher.
“The prices have gone crazy,” she said, revealing she’s spent roughly $1,000 on candy so far. “You do need to monitor your product … and try to get the best deal.”
Consumers across the country tell CBC they’ve noticed the cost of candy is up, for both the full-size chocolate bars favoured by Parnell and the boxes of smaller “fun size” sweets.
Flyers archived on the shopping deal blog Smart Canucks between October 2022 and October 2023 show, for example, the price of Nestle’s popular 50-piece box of chocolate outpaced inflation by as much as 17.5 per cent at some of Canada’s major grocery chains, including those owned by Loblaw Cos. Ltd., Metro Inc., Empire Company Limited, and western-Canada based London Drugs.
The price of confectionery products, including regular chocolate candy bars, was up 9.5 per cent year over year in September, according to Statistics Canada. So Canadians might expect that a box of fun-size chocolate bars priced at $6.99 in 2022 would cost about $7.65 now.
Instead, some retailers are selling it for $8.99.
The price hike comes as the major grocery chains face increased public and political scrutiny over the role they play in Canada’s food inflation. Earlier this week MPs voted unanimously to have the company heads return to Ottawa to explain their plans for stabilizing food prices.
In a statement, Loblaws noted that candy and chocolate makers had increased their prices significantly due to higher costs for ingredients like sugar and cocoa, making it more expensive to produce and therefore more costly for grocers to get on store shelves.�
“We’re doing everything we can to provide our customers the best possible value, including price promotions and regular pricing,” the statement said.
Metro Inc. declined to comment, instead directing CBC to Michael Graydon, the president and CEO of Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada, an industry association that represents food, health and consumer product manufacturers.
According to Graydon, while some factors driving inflation in Canada are highly visible to the public, others such as labour shortages, overly burdensome regulations and the country’s “highly consolidated grocery marketplace” are more behind the scenes.
“In the long term, Canadian food manufacturers, retailers and governments must address constraints that have for too long contributed to our uniquely high costs of doing business,” he said in an email.
Walmart Canada told CBC via email that it’s on track to sell “over four thousand tonnes” of Halloween candy this year. The company said it has held its price on Nestle’s 50-piece box of chocolate “to make it easier for customers to welcome trick-or-treaters on a budget.”
CBC also contacted Empire Company Limited, which owns Sobeys, Safeway, IGA and FreshCo, among others, but did not hear back before publication.
Halloween back in full force after pandemic
Like Parnell, Calgary resident Ashley Cardinal has spent several years carving a Halloween-sized niche for herself.
Since 2016 she has handed out full-size chocolate bars to trick-or-treaters. She told CBC she used to do more, including providing hot chocolate for cold parents, but that became too expensive after the pandemic.
Still, she’s not considering a switch to smaller candies.
“With just chocolate bars, it feels like an attainable cost,” said Cardinal, adding that she’s willing to spend as much as she does because Halloween is an “interactive” holiday that lets her connect with her neighbours.
“There’s two holidays people can get gung-ho and … excited about,” she said. “Halloween and Christmas.”
Meanwhile, industry insiders say Halloween has seen a return to prominence after a few quiet years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rob Felix, senior vice-president of merchandising for London Drugs, says this year looks like it’s going to be the biggest they’ve had since 2018.
“People have this pent up demand to do some of the things that they normally did four or five years ago.”
Like others, Felix acknowledges that prices have jumped, in part because of increased costs surrounding candy manufacturing, but he notes retailers cycle through promotions, with some deals occurring weeks before the event.
Some parts of Halloween ‘recession proof’
Retail adviser David Ian Gray says certain aspects of Halloween are recession proof.
“For things like bowls of candy, the price is up, but the total cost of that is something most are able to manage,” he said.
New Westminster resident Kam Shergill says he expected the cost of Halloween candy to go up given Canada’s high cost of living, but still plans on buying his usual amount.
“It’s more expensive but it won’t impact the kids from my standpoint,” he said.
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