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Halloween costumes let kids wear favorite treat

This Halloween, trick-or-treaters won't just be eating candy. They'll be candy _ dressed as Life Savers, Hershey's Kisses, Mr. Peanuts and M&Ms of all colors and sizes (either plain or peanut).

Confections won't be the only food product on parade this year, either. Oreo and Pillsbury Doughboy costumes also are available, as well as Jolly Green Giant and Little Sprout outfits for the more health-minded. And for the family dog that's always looking for extra treats, Nabisco has been selling a special pet-sized Milk Bone costume from its mail-order catalog.

It's a new packaging concept, so to speak _ and certainly one more example of how successful food manufacturers have been in creating brand names that become a pervasive part of everyday life.

"Candymakers must be thrilled to death," said Laura Ries, president of the marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries in Atlanta. "To have kids that interested and connected to a brand that they just don't want to eat it, but actually dress up as it _ you can't ask for a better promotion."

This latest food fad also says "Americans love advertising and advertisements," Ries added. "It's been a trend that's been percolating for years. Since the 1980s, we've seen the rise of T-shirts or hats with company logos. It's just a natural progression that this trend would go all the way to Halloween costumes."

The dressed-up delicacies also represent a happy twist for food manufacturers.

For years they have spent millions of dollars on advertising to make sure their treats are doled out on Halloween. This year, however, thousands of consumers are paying candy companies a small licensing fee _ a tiny percentage of the costume price _ for the pleasure of dressing as the treats themselves.

A spokeswoman for Toys "R" Us Inc. said the M&M costume is "the No. 1 costume for teens and adults."

Among those wearing candy costumes this year will be 9-year-old Ginny Mohler of Arlington, Va. "I've wanted to be an M&M for a long time. . . . It's one of my favorite candies," she said.

"You will undoubtedly see packs of M&Ms trick-or-treating this year," predicted Howard Beige, vice president of sales for Rubie's Costume Co., the nation's largest costume and accessory manufacturer, which just this year began mass-producing a variety of food costumes.

Sales "have been better than our wildest dreams," Beige said. Demand has been so great, he said, that Rubie's has continued to produce the costumes all this week.

"We're very excited to be offering consumers another option for M&Ms _ which is to be an M&M for Halloween," said Pat D'Amato, public relations manager for M&M/Mars Inc. "It's a perfectly natural fit for us, especially for Halloween, which is all about costumes and candy."

Americans are spending more on costumes than candy. A survey by the National Retail Federation shows that last year Americans spent $1-billion for costumes but only $900-million on candy.

This year, the federation predicts, consumers will spend $2.5-billion on Halloween, with only $950-million going for candy. The rest will be spent on costumes, decorations and greeting cards _ making the once-simple commemoration the second-biggest marketing holiday in America, after Christmas.