Sweet Sorrow

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Sweet Sorrow

CHICAGO -- Consumers are spooked, fearful of a sluggish economy, which could make it hard for manufacturers and retailers to scare up the type of heady Halloween business they have seen in recent years.

A survey by the National Retail Federation forecast U.S. sales of candy, costumes and decorations for Halloween will be flat compared with last year, at about $6.9 billion.

"Halloween kind of went into a little bit of a slump," said spokesman Scott Krugman told Reuters. "It might take a year or two, but we expect it to recover."

U.S. candy sales in the four weeks ended Sept. 7, the most recent period available, were down 1.5 percent compared with the same period in 2001, according to data tracking firm ACNielsen, a sister company of Convenience Store News. That is on top of a slim 1.5-percent gain in August.

Through 2001, Halloween sales had nearly tripled from about $2.5 billion in 1995, as the holiday expanded beyond its traditional Oct. 31 date into more comprehensive autumn celebrations throughout the September and October months. It is the second-biggest shopping holiday behind Christmas.

This year, consumers plan to spend about $44 per household on candy, costumes and decorations for the Halloween season, down slightly from about $45 last year, the NRF predicts.

A reduction in spending momentum could be particularly acute for candy makers that depend on robust Halloween sales like Hershey Foods Corp., Kraft Foods Inc. and Nestle SA, analysts said.

Depending on the number of children per household, candy sales make up about one-third to one-half of all dollars spent on Halloween, the NRF said.