Halloween is a special time in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and this fall, we’re inviting viewers everywhere to see it for themselves, with the debut of “Chocolate Meltdown: Hershey's After Dark,” a four-part series that launched September 27 on Food Network. In each episode of the show, hosted by Sunny Anderson, pastry chefs and chocolatiers run through Hersheypark and compete in late-night challenges amid the rides and roller coasters; then design Hershey confections into works of art at Hershey's Chocolate World, the world’s largest Hershey’s store, located next to Hersheypark. Each week, the winner receives a year’s supply of Hershey candy, a vacation to Hersheypark and $10,000.
It’s a show that’s exciting to see, and it sparks creativity like I’ve never known as the talented confectioners melt Jolly Ranchers to look like stained glass and build scary sci-fi sculptures out of Reese’s Pieces and Almond Joy bars. As I watched with my 10-year-old daughter and my husband, and as we cheered for the contestants, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the show—which was years in the making—came to be and the unique moments it makes for viewers. It reflects our strategy of continuing to find ways to connect with people across generations, and it reflects our purpose of making more moments of goodness for consumers in the most authentic way. I also think it reminds us of what an integral role our brands play in family traditions and even community traditions across the different seasons.
The idea for a show came about in 2019. My team is always searching for new ways to connect with consumers on different experiential levels, beyond 15-second advertising spots (although those are important, too). I’m fortunate to work for a company that makes iconic brands that consumers love, and we wanted to bring those consumers even deeper into our world to experience our products and brands in a new way. That led us to take a trip to Los Angeles, where we met with producers and entertainment groups and put the word out that we were open to working with the right partner on a show.
Soon after, a production company, Beyond Productions, contacted us with a kooky idea: a confection-oriented competition tied to Halloween. Immediately, we loved it. Halloween and Hershey are inseparable, after all. Hershey is the Halloween market share leader with the top line of chocolate assortments and three of the top five leading brands in Halloween—Hershey’s, Reese’s and Kit Kat. We were thrilled to learn that Beyond already had a longstanding relationship with Food Network, and before we knew it, we were deep into talks about the logistics of a themed, multi-episode show, which would take place at Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World.
This was the perfect opportunity to connect with consumers during the Halloween season both in person at our experiential retail locations and at home in their living rooms—all with their favorite candy.
Taping began in 2020, and I had the pleasure of serving as one of the executive producers. We shot each segment overnight so we had Hersheypark to ourselves at the witching hour, to best match the spooky Halloween theme. Each show starts with a challenge, such as finding the newest, longest, tallest rollercoaster in Hersheypark and riding it (answer: Candymonium). When the contestants get off the ride, they're rewarded with a confection, such as Twizzlers, and head to Hershey's Chocolate World to design a Halloween-themed work of art featuring that confection. I can't even begin to do justice to the results. There was a haunted forest filled with trick-or-treaters; a carnival-inspired elephant sculpture that looked like it could have been in a museum; an island with creepy dolls heads coming out of the ground. All made out of Hershey’s chocolate and candies!
That authenticity is my favorite aspect of the show, and it’s so true to the Hershey brand and purpose. We didn't have to create characters; we let candy be candy. It served as inspiration to the contestants, who elevated it in whimsical ways. They melted and stretched Jolly Ranchers into stained glass cages, twisted and wove Twizzlers into scary human hearts; and tempered, molded, marbleized and shaved Hershey’s chocolate into spooky alien creatures. Through it all, they had access to every single item in Hershey’s Chocolate World, so if they ran low on something, they went running through our massive store and grabbed it off shelves as they worked against the clock and through the night.
I’ve been working at Hershey for nearly 25 years and I’ve never been so inspired by the artistic potential of our confections. In the past, the most creative I’ve gotten, personally, is fashioning an Easter basket handle on cupcakes out of Twizzlers, but now I feel challenged to do so much more. I hope other viewers feel the same way, and they, too, walk away energized to design their own one-of-a-kind creations with friends and family, taking confection-baking to the next level.
I also hope viewers are motivated to come and see the town of Hershey, itself. There are only a handful of brands left out there with the generational connections of Hershey’s brands, and nowhere else can brand fans immerse themselves to this degree. It truly is a slice of Americana. I’m excited for them to visit Hersheypark and ride the roller coasters contestants rode. They can indulge in the Halloween specials at Hershey’s Chocolate World (on certain days the store is giving away treats featured in the show, such as s’mores and melted hot chocolate) or participate in the show-themed photo opportunities and other fun in-person experiences. They can walk down Chocolate Avenue under the Hershey’s Kisses streetlights and visit the Hershey Story museum, or celebrate the season at Hersheypark in the Dark, the three sweetest weekends of Halloween, starting October 15. You can visit hersheypa.com to plan your sweet getaway.
Like I said, there’s no better time in Hershey than Halloween. This show certainly put my family in the Halloween spirit early. We’re already looking forward to the annual Halloween parade through downtown Hershey, when the town comes together to celebrate The Sweetest Place on Earth, complete with dance troupes, fire engines and plenty of Hershey candy (my daughter will be dressed as a “zombie clown” for the occasion). I want viewers to know that small-town-charm exists beyond the TV screen, and there’s a standing invitation for them to come on by and have a taste for themselves.
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