With Easter just around the corner, are you slowly sneaking in extra candy calories—a jelly bean here, a chocolate bunny there—or are you waiting until Easter Sunday arrives to treat yourself? If you’re like millions of Americans, the answer depends on the type of candy. Data from MyFitnessPal members shows that people start snacking on jelly beans and chocolate eggs weeks in advance, but don’t start popping Peeps and chocolate bunnies until Easter Sunday itself.
Jelly beans start becoming popular in mid-February, with consumption climbing steadily throughout spring until their peak on Easter day, when consumption’s up 1152% over average. After Easter Sunday, there’s a steep drop off, but consumption stays well above average throughout May. Overall, jelly beans enjoy about three-and-a-half months of seasonal popularity.
Peeps, on the other hand, have a shorter moment in the sun, with peak Peep season lasting only a couple of weeks. They see a sharp jump to stardom on Easter day, with an impressive 1706% increase over average. Still, though, they’re less than one third as popular as jelly beans.
Now let’s talk about chocolate. We were surprised to see that there was no spike in overall chocolate consumption on Easter. In fact, it dips slightly, down 6% from average. At closer examination, however, this makes perfect sense: people eat so much chocolate on a daily basis that it’s tough to beat the average, whereas jelly beans and Peeps make up a much smaller percentage of people’s daily diets. To give you some perspective, last Easter—a below-average day for chocolate—about 20 times as many MyFitnessPal diary entries mentioned chocolate as mentioned jelly beans.
Although overall chocolate consumption didn’t move much on Easter, we suspected that the types of chocolate foods being eaten would be different. And boy were they. The top 20 foods containing chocolate the Sunday before Easter was largely made up of everyday treats like chocolate milk, chocolate protein shakes and chocolate granola bars. On Easter itself, however, chocolate eggs grabbed the number two spot; chocolate bunnies made it into the top 10 and let’s just say there was a lot more chocolate cake involved. Chocolate protein shakes, however, were decidedly less popular.
We zoomed in on chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs for closer examination. Like jelly beans, chocolate eggs are eaten early and often, while chocolate bunnies are really only eaten on and right after Easter. But on that glorious day, chocolate bunnies do some serious spiking, up 2840% from average.
Having seen this early-and-often versus on-and-after pattern twice in the candy data, we were curious about why different candies show such different patterns. Perhaps some candies are more widely available before Easter, while others are only available closer to the day itself.
We did some hardcore investigative journalism and walked across the street to check the shelves of the Walgreens next to our San Francisco office. As of this writing, we’re still about four weeks out from Easter, and all four of the treats of interest are already on offer: Peeps, jelly beans, chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies are all present and accounted for in shiny pastel packaging.
Drawing on our extremely scientific sample size of one store, the differences in the candy consumption curves do not appear to be due to availability, but instead point to a real difference in people’s preferences.
Perhaps people feel ridiculous (not to mention guilty) eating bunny- and chick-shaped candy on a non-holiday, but the smaller, non-descript beans or eggs feel more permissible any day of spring. Maybe bunnies belong in baskets, whereas beans and eggs are legitimate choices for home and office candy dishes. Or maybe chocolate eggs and jelly beans are simply tastier than Peeps and chocolate bunnies, so people deem them to be splurge-worthy for longer periods of time. We’ll chalk this up as one of the great mysteries of our time, along with how the Easter bunny delivers all of that candy without even the benefit of a sleigh.