By Stephanie Fusco
Ryan Harper starts to think about Halloween candy in February. From chips and cheesy snacks to sweet confections, the perfect trick-or-treat options are always top of mind.
As the Senior Merchant, Seasonal Confectionary at Walmart Canada, Ryan has the sweetest job in the business: he’s responsible for planning, buying and merchandising the confectionary assortment for all seasonal holidays (Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas and yes, Halloween).
While retail businesses across the country scaled back on their buy in 2020, Halloween 2021 is already shaping up to be one of Walmart’s biggest yet: sales of décor are up and seasonal sales across departments are out-pacing usual sell-through for this point in the season.
Customers turn to Walmart as a convenient, one-stop shop with everyday low prices for Halloween.
“Our Halloween assortment is flying of the shelves – we’ve seen an increase in Halloween candy sales so far this year and sell-through in our seasonal departments overall is up for this time of the season,” explains Ryan.
In 2020, Canadians turned to spooky décor and family-focused celebrations to enjoy Halloween safely. While trick-or-treating is back this year, Canadians are continuing to embrace décor trends like larger-than-life animatronics and extensive outdoor displays.
No one knows this trend better than Alexis White, the 19-year Walmart veteran and buyer responsible for this year in-store selection of nearly 2,000 Halloween and Harvest items.
“When you’re deciding what to buy for the season, sometimes you just feel like it’s going to be a good item. You get a sense that this is going to be the next big thing,” she explains. “But there’s also a science to it – you look at data, how a similar item sold, how many stores it’s in. Ultimately you want to create a program that really satisfies the customer”.
Alexis and her team make suggestions on specific parts of the products Walmart carries, like changing fabric, colour or even requesting a new product altogether. As someone who celebrates Halloween all month long, crafting a customized assortment for customers is a treasured aspect of Alexis’ role.
But for Ryan, who joined Walmart in 2011, one of his favourite things about his job is the opportunity to see new, innovative items. This year, these must-have items include glow-in-the-dark M&Ms, pumpkin-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups and vampire kisses from Hershey, oozing with strawberry filling.
Ryan’s unique role has taken on more meaning (and pressure) since welcoming his two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter.
“As a parent, it has really come full circle. The events I’m buying for have a lot more meaning: I’m anticipating the excitement on my kids’ faces when they get to experience a real Halloween,” explains Ryan. “You only get so many Halloweens with your kids, where they’re willing to trick-or-treat with you and to dress up as a family. This year – to see them have a normal Halloween – it’s really exciting.”