COMMERCE Halloween unmasked as a real cash cow
Spending on costumes and decorations are on the rise, but candy sales are down.
Halloween, the holiday usually associated with costumes and neighborhood trick-or-treating, has become a huge moneymaker for U.S. businesses, thanks mostly to the growing popularity of fake tombstones and fog machines.
Only one segment of Halloween merchandise has gone stale -- the candy.
The makers of pet costumes, creepy greeting cards, orange twinkle lights and other ghoulish accessories are cashing in this October on what's become a $7 billion-a-year industry and the nation's second-biggest holiday in terms of spending, trailing only Christmas.
Sales of Halloween candy, meanwhile, slipped 0.4 percent last year, according to the National Confectioner Association, and are expected to increase only 1.1 percent this year.
A recent survey by the National Retail Federation was even gloomier: It found that, while the average American expects to spend a little more on Halloween costumes and decorations this year -- $27.36 apiece, up about 1 percent -- spending on candy is projected to fall 19 percent, to $14.41 a head.
"Halloween has snowballed from a trick-or-treat holiday into something more," said Lesley Bannatyne, a Halloween expert and author of two books about the holiday. "We're seeing more outdoor decorations, parties, cards and things -- and fewer children walking around a neighborhood asking for candy."
All those decorations translate into big bucks for retailers, who in recent years have come to depend on the holiday to drive their October sales growth, said Ellen Tolley, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
"Halloween isn't just for kids anymore," she said. "More adults are dressing up. They're decorating their homes with orange lights. They're spending more money on the holiday and celebrating in new ways."
Others crowd around the stark, black Halloween tree and tell ghost stories.
"It doesn't surprise me that candy sales aren't growing with the rest of the industry," Bannatyne said.
Nonchocolate sweets are taking the biggest hit these days -- including candy corn, the quintessential Halloween treat. Those tri-colored kernels and other nonchocolate goodies are less popular among today's trick-or-treaters, who prefer candy bars or bags of M & amp;Ms, confection experts say.
Last year, when sales of all Halloween candy fell 0.4 percent, sales of nonchocolate candy dropped 7.2 percent, according to the confectioners' association.
"Kids today want extreme flavors. Sour candy is very popular, and so is chocolate," said Steve Luitjens, vice president of marketing at Farley's & amp; Sathers Candy Co., which makes candy corn, among other things. "Candy corn is more of an adult candy. It's a staple Halloween treat, but it's not as popular as it used to be."