Halloween: Fiendishly frightening, but for all the wrong reasons!

29 October 2019

Cosy jumpers, dark nights and leaves turning amber, October has it all. It’s also the month of spooky festival, Halloween. Loved by children and adults alike, Halloween is an event associated by many with traditions such as ‘Trick-or-Treating’ (Scots might remember when we called it ‘guising’) ‘ducking for apples’, and dressing up as all sorts of fearsome fiends!

In recent years, many retailers have aimed to capitalise on Halloween’s popularity by providing all the modern Halloween ‘essentials’, with particular emphasis on sweet treats for children. You would be hard-pressed to walk into a food retailer at this time of year and not be hit with a tempting wall of sweets and chocolates, usually with a ghoulish twist.



This picture was taken at the small Marks and Spencer store in Edinburgh Waverley railway station. The wall of sweets in the top picture spanned six shelves at the entrance of the store, where the salads and sandwiches are normally displayed. The other pictures were taken at the checkout area, and it is clear to see that most of the items are also on a ‘3 for 2’ promotion. The ‘Spooky Percy Pigs’ were grouped in clusters beside every self-checkout. These are examples of non-monetary, location promotions.


While Halloween can be exciting and enjoyable, it is important to be aware that retailers may be tempting you to purchase more sugary snacks than you realise or intend to.


  • In Scotland, 36% of the calories we purchase from shops and supermarkets are on promotion; promotions make us purchase more and retailers promote less healthy products more often
  • 50% of the sugar we consume in Scotland comes from discretionary products. These are food and drinks that we don’t need for a healthy diet, such as confectionery, cakes and biscuits
  • In Scotland, 29% of children are at risk of overweight or obesity and 16% are at risk of obesity
  • Poor diet, including excessive sugar consumption, is a leading cause of tooth decay. In the UK in 2017/18 the equivalent of 13 school buses full of children had tooth extractions under general anaesthetic due to tooth decay, each week!
  • Consumer spending on Halloween products almost doubled from 2013-2018, from £230 million to £419 million, with over 75% of Halloween shoppers purchasing food products in 2018
  • The report ‘Halloween in the UK’ by Global Data found that retailers widely promoted their food products and discounted seasonal products, “bolstering impulse purchases”


The same scenario can be seen online, with Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s all displaying Halloween-specific areas on their online stores, each with a prominent dedicated trick-or-treat section.



A look on Tesco’s online promoted trick-or-treat section showed that of the 52 ‘sweets and treats’ available to purchase on 16th October, 28 were on price promotion. This means that 60% of all the available food items in this section were on price promotion, with 21 items reduced in price and 7 on multi-buy offers. In ASDA, the percentage of items on price promotion in the same section was 32%, but with far more multi-buy offers. In Sainsbury’s online trick-or-treat section, two of the items, a 6-pack of Freddo’s and a 20-pack of Mars ‘fun-size family favourites’, came with a fixed sponsored product advertisement for ‘Aquafresh Little Teeth 3-5 years toothpaste’, indicating that these products may be targeted towards parents of very young children.


So, enjoy the Halloween festivities, but beware of the sugar-filled promotions set to tempt you into purchasing ‘essentials’ that you didn’t intend to buy!


There are also plenty of healthier Halloween snacks and treats that kids will have fun preparing: tangerines decorated as mini-pumpkins, banana halves styled as ghosts or egg halves with black olive-spiders on them. Check out this Halloween blog from the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network for some brilliant ideas!

Find out more about the impact of promotions in our recently updated ‘Obesity and Promotions’ briefing or read our response to the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, which included a commitment to a Bill on Restricting Food Promotion.