You’ve heard the old saying, “Like a kid in a candy store,” right?
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s even better to be the adult who gets to fill the candy store – and taste all of it – particularly when the Halloween rush is on.
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend a total of $2.1 billion on Halloween candy. As the Halloween candy buyer at Walmart, a significant slice of that is under my direct control. We sell enough cases of candy during the Halloween season to stretch from Chicago to Los Angeles.
As part of the world’s largest retailer, that responsibility becomes a lot more fun than just flipping through catalogs and placing orders. Earlier this fall, I turned on the CNN morning news while having my breakfast, and there they were: the new, limited-edition pecan pie-flavored M&Ms. The product was blowing off our shelves, and the buzz was all over the news and social media. The product was a smash hit – and I may or may not have been fist pumping in celebration.
Several months earlier, I was sampling the very first rendering of pecan pie-flavored M&Ms as they came off the line. I got to work with the manufacturer to help tweak the formula and get it just right. When we had that nailed down, our attention turned to how to make the packaging fun and exciting.
For me, it’s like being a real-life Willy Wonka. Because of the close relationship we have with our suppliers, we have opportunities to create new products and develop exclusive new twists on classics, like M&Ms. By coming up with this exclusive product, the supplier and Walmart were both putting millions of dollars at risk, because there was no guarantee it was going to work. But that’s where our jobs become so much fun – gathering the fact-based data and insights that indicate this has the potential to be the next big thing.
Sometimes, it's coming up with the new. Others, it’s mixing the assortments in our traditional Halloween variety bags, or accounting for regional preferences like Twizzlers on the East Coast vs. Red Vines out West. It’s a balance between setting the mood for the fall season and ramping up to accommodate the volume as Halloween approaches.
Depending on the store location, I have hundreds of items specifically for the 54-day period we classify as the Halloween season. And, yes, I do taste the majority of it. I’m of the belief, if I’m going to sell something, I need to know it inside and out. What kind of chocolate? Where are we sourcing the beans from? I want to understand the experience the customer will have. And as soon as it's all over, I’ll be right back at it for next Halloween.
Believe it or not, my birthday is on Oct. 31. So, I guess you could say Halloween and I have always been together. The weather, the season, the holiday and, of course, the candy – I love this time of year. It just so happens I’m fortunate enough to have my professional life revolve around it, too.