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Holiday is filling retailers' bags with money

Published Oct. 2, 2005

While many Americans identify Halloween with the colors black and orange, retailers are seeing green.

A brew of marketing and cultural changes have made the season the second-largest in holiday-related sales, trailing only Christmas.

The National Retail Association said consumers will spend more than $2.5-billion this year on Halloween-themed products _ everything from traditional candy and costumes to beer parties and Count Chocula cereal sales.

Candy companies always treated the two-month period leading up to All Hallow's Eve as their busiest sales period by adding extra shifts and boosting production. Sales of chocolate candy miniatures rise 200 percent in the period, while non-chocolate candies see a 21 percent increase.

But retailers and food companies in recent years have been pitching Halloween as more of a monthlong party period for adults. It's clearly working: Halloween now is second only to New Year's Eve in the number of parties thrown, industry experts say.

For example, police estimate that up to 25,000 costumed college students will descend on Chapel Hill, N.C., for festivities that mushroomed from a simple hometown observance four years ago.

Tombstone Pizza, a division of Kraft Foods, has even capitalized on its scary-sounding name to boost sales during the season. Last year, the company saw its sales spike 32 percent in the last week of October, according to research company A.C. Nielsen.

"What we found was actually happening was a change in the way people are celebrating Halloween," said Marla Stempler, Tombstone's senior brand manager. "We've seen a simultaneous decline in traditional trick-or-treating and an increase in decorating, dressing up and hosting parties."

The expansion from what was traditionally a children's holiday into a commercial extravaganza has some critics arguing it's a frightful transformation. But consumer analysts say the change is occurring because baby boomers are nostalgic for their youth.

"People are very busy nowadays with jobs, careers, families, and one way for them to have a good escape and stay kids for a while is Halloween," said Dr. Audrey Guskey, professor of marketing at DuQuesne University in Pittsburgh.

Safety concerns also changed Halloween. Many adults prefer to take their children out in costumes before it gets dark, and work often gets in the way of that, Guskey said.