Worst Halloween Candy? We Did an Experiment to Find Out

Sensory scientists love Halloween because we get to eat and debate the merits of various Halloween treats in the name of science! This season we found ourselves talking about the worst Halloween treats and decided to run a little experiment to find the worst of the worst, best of the worst, and most polarizing common Halloween treats.

The Experiment

We had 32 people (12 kids and 20 adults) rank different Halloween treats from best to worst. We chose the Rank Rating method to get our participant to directly compare each treat rather than score them in absolute terms. This way we could easily see differences between samples with a relatively small group of participants.

Participants were given 8 options to rank: FireBalls, Necco Wafers, Good & Plenty, Milk Duds, Raisinets, Smarties, and Candy Corn. We also added a non-candy alternative treat like loose change or a pencil to see if some participants would just rather have no candy at all.

The Worst

Two candies stuck out as the least preferred among participants: Necco Wafers and Good & Plenty. Adults tended to associate Necco Wafers with antacid tablets while kids commented that the Good & Plenty flavor was too intense.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Kids have about three times the amount of taste buds than adults, so intensely flavored candies can be too overwhelming for children. And on the Necco Wafer front, most kids haven’t formed any negative experiences with the “chalky” flavor of antacids, so they had more positive reactions to the Necco Wafers than the adults.

The Best

By far the most preferred candy in this set were the Milk Duds. Far from a dud, 72% of participants ranked these caramel & chocolate treats as their #1 or #2 pick of the set.

The Head Scratcher

When was the last time you had a FireBall? It’s had been a while for most of our tasters, and it was the hardest candy to find, which showed up in the data. While the ranking for other treats were normally distributed, tasters were all over the place with FireBalls.

Especially with kids, liking is strongly correlated with familiarity and most kids were not familiar with FireBalls thus decreasing their liking. As for adults, some associated the candy with Fireball liquor which…is polarizing to say the least.

Are Treats Still Better Than Tricks?

Both kids and adults generally prefer mediocre candy when presented with a non-candy alternative…to a degree. Our dataset found no significant difference between the Necco Wafers, Good & Plenty, and “No Candy” meaning participants would just as well have no candy when presented with these two options.

So, what are we to learn from this when selecting this year’s Halloween treat? Our take is to stick to the classics. If you want to appeal to a broad audience stick with balanced flavors, familiar brands, and products that haven’t been replicated too broadly.

Check out our Podcast!

Hear us discuss this and other fun sensory topics in our podcast Why This? available on Spotify and YouTube.

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