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Rice Krispies, Campbell's soup get dressed up for the holidays

Wondering why there are pumpkins in your Rice Krispies, orange icing oozing from your Oreos and jack-o-lanterns in your Campbell's soup? Forget that old black magic. The wizards of marketing are at work.

With an estimated $2.5-billion in retail sales, the business of spooking American consumers has become huge. Depending on the source, Halloween season now ranks as one of the five most lucrative for retailers and in some sectors ranks second only to Christmas for product sales.

The trick to treating consumers lies in recognizing the appeal that Halloween holds for Americans of all ages, says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for Grocery Manufacturers of America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing food producers.

"Halloween isn't just for kids anymore," Sansoni says. "America's brand-name manufacturers are very eager to provide consumers of all ages with the products they enjoy _ specifically, the treats that they enjoy _ in holiday forms."

"Halloween has become a tremendous, tremendous holiday," says Susan Smith, spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, an organization representing confectioners from offices in Maclean, Va.

Of the approximately $3.12-billion in total annual sales of chocolate candy in U.S. markets sold through supermarkets last year, more than one-fourth of those sales occurred between Sept. 15 and Nov. 10, according to Information Resources Inc., a data-tracking provider for the food service industry based in Chicago.

More and more non-chocolate products are also emerging: Mootown Snacks (mini-packs of cheese spread and cracker sticks or honey graham cookie sticks with vanilla cream and rainbow sprinkles), BooMallows (flavored creature-shaped marshmallows), Sand Witches (vanilla cream cookie packs embossed with witches), Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, miniature "real fruit" Fruit Roll-ups and Trix snacks (Betty Crocker/General Mills' ploy to suggest "healthfulness" as a Halloween alternative).

That's why Rice Krispies, one of the nation's most popular ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, got dressed up for the holidays.

This is the third year running that Kellogg Co., the Battle Creek, Mich., cereal giant, has issued a holiday version of the perennial favorite. Halloween Rice Krispies feature "fun orange shapes" and green-tinted Krispies scattered throughout the toasted rice cereal. The company also markets Spooky Froot Loops, with ghost-shaped marshmallow bits, for Halloween and Ho Ho Holiday Rice Krispies, with red-and-green Krispies, for Christmas.

Sales "would be in the millions of packages," Karen Kafer, director of corporate communications for Kellogg, says, calling specific figures proprietary, "but the product is nationally distributed, and Rice Krispies is one of our top five brands," she says, adding that the Halloween version routinely sells out before Oct. 31.

That kind of popularity prompted the Campbell Soup Co. to conjure up Campbell's Jack O Lantern condensed soup, with pumpkin-shaped pastas in chicken broth. Currently in test-market, the brand is available only in Ohio, but there is every likelihood, says spokesman Kevin G. Lowery, that the product will sell nationwide next year.

"Go into the candy aisle on Nov. 1, and you'll find a lot of candy left, and (retailers) don't want it around," Lowery says, "which is why we didn't call it "Halloween Soup.' It's "Jack O Lantern soup,' a fun thing that both kids and parents participate in, and it's okay to have your jack-o'-lantern after Halloween."

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