Day of the Dead – Sweets & Snacks to get in the Spirit

By Heather Mayer

Skulls – here in the US, they’re not just for Halloween anymore. Enter Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. As reported by USA Today, this Mexican celebration is going mainstream, with those of non-Mexican descent joining in on the fun. In fact, several US cities like San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, and Albuquerque host Day of the Dead parades and other Day of the Dead festivities. Major retailers like Target, Party City, and Amazon have jumped on the Day of the Dead bandwagon, adding a selection of decorations and treats. Their motivation – tap into the holiday’s growing popularity, but also the growing buying power of the Hispanic population.

According to Nielsen, Hispanics represent 18 percent of the US population, and predict their buying power to grow from $1.4 trillion in 2016 to $1.8 trillion by 2021. This potential has retailers upping their offerings around Hispanic holidays and other events.  With Day of the Dead taking place directly following Halloween, it’s easy to incorporate Day of the Dead items into your holiday stock to appeal to both your Hispanic customers and general Day of the Dead fans. 

While Day of the Dead and Halloween are close to one another on the calendar, it’s important to understand the holiday and how it’s celebrated, to attract customers. Here is a little background on the holiday and some suggested items to help your customers get in on the fun.

Day of the Dead – Background

Celebrated starting at midnight on October 31 and running through November 2, Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration based on the belief that the souls of deceased loved ones come back from heaven to reunite with their loved ones on earth. Where Halloween has a more spooky feel and the connotation of being afraid of death, Day of the Dead focuses on being comfortable with death as part of life and honoring the lives of those who have passed.

As part of the celebration, people create colorful altars in their homes with images of deceased family members, flowers (mostly marigolds), and food and drink as a remembrance.  Skulls covered in ornate brightly colored flowers and designs called calaveras and La Catrinas (female skeleton dressed in flowers and feathers) are among the decorations. This skull and skeleton imagery has become so iconic with the holiday, many men and women decorate their faces to look like these skulls as part of the festivities.

While mostly identified as a Mexican holiday many South and Central American, as well as Caribbean cultures celebrate a form of Day of the Dead.  Each country has their own nuances, but all are celebrated around the beginning of November and deal with honoring those family members who have passed, adding to the broader appeal of Day of the Dead products.

Food for the Celebration

As most holidays, food is a big part of the Day of the Dead festivities. A food symbolic of the celebration are sugar skulls, candy depictions of the ornate calaveras. While sugar skulls can be very detailed and time-consuming to create, there are many Day of the Dead themed candies that easily get customers in on the fun. Large Marshmallow Day of the Dead Lollipops from Treat Street are a sweet, fluffy depiction that looks very close to the real thing.

Day of the Dead skulls are so colorful and detailed, they lend themselves to exceptional packaging, adding to the celebration and as decorations that can be displayed year round. A hologram dispenser of dextrose candy like those from Treat Street bring animated fun, while a tin full of hard candy skulls like that from Boston America make a colorful, collectible display.

Since Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated during the cooler months, a warm beverage like hot chocolate is a welcome addition to the food spread.  Mexican hot chocolate is typically spicy, thanks to a kick from cinnamon and cayenne pepper but instant mixes are hard to find.  Pair popular instant hot chocolate mixes like those from Godiva and Ghirardelli with popular spice brands like D&A Spice Mills or Spice Hunter so customers can create their own Mexican hot chocolate at home.

Don’t carry hot chocolate?  Don’t worry. You can bring Mexican hot chocolate flavors through your premium chocolate selection with Chuao’s Spicy Mayan dark chocolate bar, Chocolove’s Chilies and Cherries dark chocolate bar or Tobasco’s dark chocolate bar.

Whether they’re celebrating Day of the Dead as part of their heritage or not, customers are falling in love with the ornate imagery of Day of the Dead calaveras and La Catrinas. Adding a Day of the Dead selection to your fall candy section ties into this trend while tapping into the larger Hispanic market.  Depending on your customer base, consider posting signage with an explanation of the holiday and how to celebrate.  This allows everyone to enjoy in their own unique way.  With the holiday gaining popularity, you may want to consider hosting a Day of the Dead event at your shop.  Not only is it an opportunity to connect with your Hispanic customer base, it’s another forum to promote your fall candy stock.

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