Why less is more in making your Halloween innovation a success

Isa Franzini, Janine Klimko & Katie Sweet

It’s spooky season! It’s the time of year when we cover our homes in pumpkins and fake cobwebs, dress up our kids (or ourselves) in fun costumes, and eat enough candy to make ourselves sick (or maybe that’s just us?). It’s also the time of year where we stroll down grocery store aisles to see what Halloween products our favorite brands launched this year.

Seasonal or limited-edition products launched in key moments, like Halloween, can be a great way to increase brand awareness, generate new consumption occasions and ultimately drive incremental sales. But we all know that some seasonal or limited edition products work better than others. 

We researched 10 Halloween products (from soft drinks, cereal, sweet baked snacks, chocolate and non-chocolate candy categories) selling in the US in 2023 through our advanced concept testing solution, Activate It, to understand their potential based on consumer feedback. Read on to discover what we learned.

Overall conclusions

When it comes to Halloween products, less is more! Products with the highest in-market potential were generally those that kept the base of a core selling product and made seasonally-relevant enhancements to drive engagement. 

Going the extra mile by creating new products or flavor variations that are tailored to the season can generate excitement among consumers and drive high levels of differentiation for a brand. However, in the case of the Halloween products we looked at, new products didn’t drive enough trial potential for short-term success. The reasons for this are outlined in the findings below. 


But first, a brief explanation of our methodology to help put our findings in context. Activate It is part of our end-to-end innovation suite and provides fast and actionable insights for mid to late-stage innovation.

The system focuses on two key metrics to determine success: Trial Potential and Breakthrough Potential. While Trial Potential is based on the product’s purchase likelihood, Breakthrough Potential is defined by how different and superior the product is perceived to be vs. what’s already available in the market.  

The combination of those scores places products within a classification grid to forecast their performance in market and advise on the best launch strategy.

In Activate It, each concept is plotted on a matrix based on its Trial Potential and Breakthrough Potential. In this view, all concepts are classified as one of five types based on their performance, which gives clear guidance on how to evolve the concept and how to take it to market.

We focused our findings on those two key potential metrics and dive into the detail behind the scores. 

Innovation research metrics: Trial & Breakthrough Potential

Learn more about why trial and breakthrough potential is so important and what role they play in innovation development.


To better understand what works and what doesn’t when launching Halloween innovation, we segmented the products into the following categories:

  • Enhanced core products: Everyday products with a Halloween twist — themed-packaging, food coloring (but retaining the original taste), seasonal shapes, etc.

  • New* products: Products launched specifically for Halloween, not stemming from an existing range that is available all year round.

  • New* flavors: Products derived from an existing core range with a new flavor launched specifically for Halloween.

* not necessarily launched this year

The performance of the Halloween products we tested across key metrics was mixed. The Trial and Breakthrough Potential scores and corresponding classification grid suggested that most products would struggle to be successful in-market — at least in generating short-term trial or beyond a specific target audience. 

Despite this, there’s a number of products that show high potential particularly due to people’s expressed interest in buying them (trial). There’s a clear pattern on the type of products that are more likely to appeal to consumers as they are all what we’ve called ‘enhanced core products.’

Enhanced core products: Hitting the sweet spot

Among the ‘enhanced core product’ group, Reese’s Pumpkins, Oreo BOO! and M&M’s Ghoul’s Mix sit within the ‘short term trial’ quadrants with high purchase likelihood scores (38.4% top box vs. 29.8% food norm). 

This is where we would expect most successful Halloween innovation to sit — generating sales and being relevant during the season, but perhaps not being sufficiently advantageous vs. core offerings for scaling beyond a limited edition. These products are everyday classics but with a fun Halloween twist that make them even more irresistible during spooky season. 

People commended the M&M's characters dressed in Halloween costumes, the pumpkin shape instead of the traditional Reese’s cup and Oreo’s cookie shapes with a bright orange color for their original creme filling. 

Despite the products offering the same original taste, between 60-70% of consumers said they would buy them in addition to what they currently buy from the category. Changes made to the packaging or appearance of the product were enticing enough for consumers to justify the products as different to what’s currently available. 

It naturally helped that these brands are top sellers within their categories and the categories they play in are highly relevant to Halloween. 

However, enhanced core products even from a top selling brand don’t always work — Snickers Ghoulish Green is the perfect example. 

The changes Snickers made were quite similar to the Oreo approach, so why did Oreo score so well while Snickers didn’t? It all came down to execution. The key elements that were highly liked about Oreo BOO! were disliked about Snickers Ghoulish Green.

Oreo made choices for their Halloween product that were seen as complementary to their original product and that consumers felt made sense. The black cookie provides an advantage during Halloween (as black is already a prominent Halloween color), and pairing it with orange was the perfect move. 

On the flip side, Snickers’ choice of green was seen as distasteful — consumers knew the product would still taste the same but felt the color was off-putting. They were also frustrated by the fact that the original Snickers branding and colors detracted from the overall “ghoulish” feel of the product, yet they praised the way Oreo played on the shape of their cookies to spell the word “BOO.” 

While Snickers Ghoulish Green lacked appeal from a wider audience, parents with younger children (under 12) were more open to it (37.2% top box ‘purchase likelihood’ vs 28.9% for the food norm). When launching limited edition products, it’s important to understand the target audience and how this might impact the scale of product trial.

New products/flavors: What’s not to like?

All products we classified as being brand new or having a new flavor performed poorly on Trial and Breakthrough Potential, sitting in the lower third of all food (271 products) and beverages (159 products) tested in the USA on Activate It respectively. 

While the six products in this group were seen as generally distinctive (at least on par with the norm), consumers struggled to see how they delivered beyond current offerings in market (with an average 9.2% top box ‘advantage’ vs. 20.6% and 18.8% food and beverages norms respectively) and were also less willing to buy them vs. the norm (18% top box ‘purchase likelihood’ vs. 29.8% and 25.9% food and beverages norms, respectively).

And while these products are seen to be “ideal for Halloween” (top attribute selected), they aren’t meeting consumer needs vs. what’s expected from food and drink products (13.1% top box ‘meets needs’ vs. 20.7% and 19.9% food and beverages norms respectively). This is not surprising given the focus of seasonal products on momentary engagement and fit to a particular occasion. However, if consumer needs are not fully explored when launching limited edition products, there’s a huge risk of limiting the incrementality these products could drive — which in turn is detrimental to return on investment.

Product flavor and appearance were a few of the contentious areas that affected overall performance. When asked what they disliked about the products, consumers mostly expressed how the choice of flavors or look of the products were off-putting:

Beyond taste and appearance, consumers also criticized the amount of sugar they assumed the cereal products would contain. Halloween is highly linked to candy and indulgence so there are categories and brands that have a greater right-to-play during this season. Nutritional concerns were barely expressed about the other food products. 

When it comes to the carbonated soft drinks, the undisclosed flavor made the products the most distinct of the set (27% top box ‘distinctiveness’ vs 18.9% beverages norm), but this was also pretty unsettling for consumers. On paper, mystery flavors can generate excitement by creating a fun consumption experience that’s extremely rewarding if you guess the flavor correctly. However, most people are unwilling to spend money on a product they are unsure they will enjoy. 

One consumer said “I don’t like the aspect of the mystery flavor. I don’t want to risk throwing my money away for a taste I don’t like or know.” Another commented on the Fanta product saying “The fact that there is a mystery flavor and it turns my tongue black is not appealing to me. I won’t waste my money on a guess.”

Interestingly these drinks appealed much more to a younger audience (18-24) who are perhaps more curious and experimental when it comes to new flavors.


Based on the products we tested, it’s clear that there are elements that are more likely to set a brand up for success, and others that might hinder it when launching killer Halloween products:

Elements to embrace:

  • Seasonally-relevant “minor” changes to core products — less is more! By maintaining the core product, particularly in taste, and making relevant changes to the packaging and product appearance, there is significantly less risk of losing out on appeal.

  • Seasonal cues that make sense for the brand and product. Making your product pumpkin-shaped or giving it Halloween colors works best if consumers see a connection or fit to the brand or original product.

Elements to watch out for:

  • Brand new products or flavors. These can generate excitement and work on some occasions, but more often than not don't drive engagement from a wide enough range of consumers who inevitably compare them vs. original products/flavors available all year round.

  • Execution of “minor” changes to core products. Understanding whether a particular color or design might make your product unappetizing to a large group of people is key.

  • Mystery flavors. Omitting a product flavor is a move for the brave as most consumers will struggle to justify picking up a product they don’t know whether they will enjoy. It’s a great idea to raise brand awareness as it will naturally generate conversation, but this is less likely to drive mass trial.

  • Category and brand relevance to the season. Some categories or brands have a greater connection to particular seasons. Being a chocolate or candy brand has an advantage when credibly launching a Halloween product given the strong link to trick-or-treating. 

  • Products appealing to a narrow audience. It’s important to be aware that targeting a particular group of people will have an impact on the overall sales potential of the product.

Hopefully these learnings can help you land your Halloween innovation next year! In the meantime, reach out to chat with someone about how Zappi’s innovation suite can help you land your next innovation.

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In the meantime, reach out to chat with someone about how Zappi’s innovation suite can help you land your next innovation.

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