Sales of adult-sized Halloween costumes are at an all-time high. Theme parks, usually overrun by overstimulated tykes, host a different sort of clientele come October 31: a boozy, over-21 crowd. And liquor companies are taking note.
According to the National Retail Federation, a staggering 72 percent of U.S. adults will celebrate this Halloween, compared to just 59 percent in 2007. Across industries, Halloween spending has ballooned from $5.1 billion to $9.1 billion in just a decade. It makes sense that alcohol brands — from Sam Adams to Jägermeister to Svedka — want to cash in.
Maybe the shift was inevitable. October, with its association with Oktoberfest, has always been synonymous with suds. And as the seasons change, there’s certainly a greater tendency to huddle inside heated homes with an adult beverage. It’s backed up by data: Every year since 2004, individual Google searches for both “wine” and “liquor” have spiked in October and stayed sky-high through the holidays.
Not a single beer or liquor company could share concrete October sales figures with VinePair; but with all the aforementioned brands running some sort of Halloween-themed promotion in 2017 — many have for several years — it’s safe to assume the holiday presents economic opportunity.
“Halloween is a huge occasion for 21-29 year olds,” Christopher Dunn, Mast-Jägermeister’s U.S. brand manager, told VinePair in an email. “Millennials in particular are spending big.”
For consumers eager to wear their thirst on their sleeve, there’s no shortage of liquor-fueled costumes on the market. Jägermeister recently launched print-out online origami masks in the shape of a skull, bat, and, in a nod to its logo, a stag. Svedka offered printable costumes in 2015. (This year’s Halloween push centers on banner ads that “haunt” people who watch one of the vodka brand’s spooky videos.)
Despite representing only a fourth of drinking-age adults, millennials account for about a third of overall spirits consumption. For these drinkers seasonal, Halloween-appropriate liquor offerings abound. There’s Captain Morgan’s pumpkin-shaped Jack-O’Blast spiced rum, introduced last year. Pumpkin spice liqueurs from both Kahlua and Bailey’s Irish Cream debuted in 2013 and 2016 respectively. And Pinnacle, Hiram Walker, and Bols all have pumpkin-centric offerings.
Sam Adams, for its part, has produced its 20 Pounds of Pumpkin seasonal brew since 2010. Even though the pumpkin beer category lost some ground in 2016, interest in flavored beers overall has spiked. According to Technomic, the introduction of flavored beers more than doubled between 2010 and 2015, from 2.4 percent to 5.3 percent of total beer launches.
Millennials can claim 35 percent of U.S. beer consumption and 42 percent of wine consumption. Wine labels are now getting in on the action. Black Box Wines told VinePair that merely wrapping its wines in Halloween-ified packaging resulted in a huge boom in sales. In October 2016, sales of wines in Black Box’s limited-edition Halloween sleeve soared above its monthly average. More tellingly, 2016 October sales were 49 percent greater than the previous October’s, and this season’s numbers are tracking to be even more successful than the last.
“Halloween is newer in wine,” said Jaymie Schoenberg, Black Box Wines’ vice president of marketing. “You’ll see some spirits brands leaning into holiday, but over the years, as more pumpkin limited editions come out, it’s increased the way in which adult beverages can be a part of the holiday. It’s a way of positioning Halloween as a little more grown up.”
Could there be something else at play here, though? Are we consumers being collectively infantilized? Is this the liquored-up equivalent of ’90s nostalgia — a desire to trick-or-treat like we did in simpler days, except this time, we’re wasted? Given the ways that nostalgia marketing heavily targets millennials, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable jump.
This is a generation accustomed to upheaval, from unceasing tech advances to political tumult. There could be something comforting about donning a Miller Lite costume, popping a bottle of Hallowine, and playing make-believe for a few hours.
Regardless of the reason, one thing is clear: Boozy Halloween is officially thing. We’ll raise a spooky cocktail to that.