It's the Holiday Season Already, According to Food Brands

Pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween candy, and even Thanksgiving-themed foods are popping up in August this year, because time isn’t real anymore.
August 12, 2020, 8:30pm
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Photo credit: Libby Armour/@hustlekitten

There's only one thing more egregious than the idea of "Thanksgiving Dinner-flavored candy corn," which, we regret to report is indeed a real thing. And that's the fact that Brach's quietly dropped this unholy melange of roasted turkey, green bean, sweet potato pie, cranberry sauce, and even stuffing-flavored candy in the middle of August. 

News of the candy broke yesterday after Instagram user @hustlekitten found a bag of Brach's Turkey Dinner Candy Corn at Walgreens and posted a picture. The candy news page @candyhunting quickly followed suit after tracking it down at a local Walgreens. Again, it's currently August 12. We haven't even hit Halloween.

This isn't the only fall item to hit shelves while most of the country is still in the throes of summer's muckiest days. Dunkin' announced in a press release today that it's reinstating its fall menu earlier than ever: Pumpkin spice and chai lattes, pumpkin-flavored coffees, and apple cider and pumpkin doughnuts will return nationwide on August 19, just one week away. As of this writing, New York City has a forecasted temperature of 82 degrees on that day; this is not pumpkin spice season. (Though Starbucks hasn't announced its PSL release date, we can likely also expect it this month: Last year, PSLs dropped on August 27, the earliest return in the product's history.)

Still, the food brands want us to believe that it is time for PSLs, for some reason. As work-from-home, school-from-home culture makes Wednesday feel the same as Saturday, "time is meaningless now," as VICE's Shayla Love wrote in April (and as many of us have surely felt). With so much uncertainty about the future, wrote Love, each day can feel like a never-ending present. As these product launches have made clear, time is as amorphous for The Brands as it is for the rest of us. If we accept the nonsensical idea of Christmas in July, then why not market Thanksgiving in August?

Season creep is a well-documented phenomenon. In August 2017, a spokesperson from Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada told Maclean's that the store—which was selling Halloween candy in August—considered Halloween a "bridge program" between summer and fall, though the biggest displays wouldn't come until mid-September. (The same report also mentioned that Canada's Dollarama sold Valentine's Day merchandise as early as December.) 

This push toward fall while it's still hot outside happens in part because there's not much else to market after the Fourth of July and Memorial Day. "While fall officially starts in late September, there is a large gap between when summer seasonal products debut (around May) and the official start of fall, so companies fill that gap by offering fall products earlier," Lauren from @candyhunting, who chooses not to disclose her last name, told Refinery29 last year.

2020, of course, is special, hence this even earlier appearance of fall. According to CNN, Halloween candy is popping up even earlier this year, thanks to the pandemic. With Halloween events now in limbo, candy brands are using less Halloween-specific packaging, but "in some cases, extending the shopping season." Hershey's, for example, has partnered with some stores to move up Halloween displays in an attempt to increase sales. Americans were expected to spend $2.6 billion on candy alone last Halloween, concluded a survey from the National Retail Federation.

The benefits of Halloween branding—whenever it pops up—might extend beyond the brands, though. As with many other pandemic trends, the very idea of Halloween can be soothing in unstable times as "people are looking for simple pleasures and a little escape and enjoyment in their day to day," Christopher Gindlesperger of the National Confectioners Association (NCA) trade group told CNN. A poll conducted by market research firm The Harris Poll for the NCA found that 74 percent of millennial moms and young parents see Halloween as "more important than ever this year" and that the majority of Americans polled saw candy and chocolate as playing "a major role in celebrations," per Progressive Grocer

With time feeling so pointlessly arbitrary right now, maybe there is a benefit to these reminders of future time points. When there doesn't feel like there will really be an immediate need to, say, swap our summer clothes out for winter clothes, or buy an "office sweater" ever again, maybe the thoughts of Thanksgiving and Halloween-themed products are what we need to break the "endless present" mental cycle. And hey, the horror of Thanksgiving-flavored candy corn is truly a one-two punch for that.

Perhaps we—brands included—all implicitly want to fast-forward out of 2020 as quickly as possible, even if it means accepting Thanksgiving in August. We'd even eat all the bags of turkey-and-stuffing candy corn to make that happen.