Halloween sales begin to lose steam

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Maybe it's because consumers are frightened enough about the economy or the situation in the Middle East, but Halloween appears to have lost some of its sales appeal.

After years of torrid growth in areas that extended beyond the traditional candy and kids' costumes to home decor and adult celebrations, a recent National Retail Federation survey found that consumers plan to spend about $44 per household this year vs. $45 last year. Overall, Halloween, far behind gift-giving holidays such as Christmas with $210 billion, is expected to be flat at $6.9 billion. That's a major slowdown, considering Halloween sales leapt $4.4 billion over the past six years from 1996's tally of $2.5 billion.

"Sept. 11 knocked the wind out of that holiday," said Tom Vierhile, executive editor, Productscan Online, Naples, N.Y. "It may take a year or two to recover."

Mr. Vierhile said the number of package-goods products introduced with Halloween themes jumped from 22 in 1999 to 39 in 2001 but fell to 33 through the end of this last month. Even sales of Halloween candy have leveled off. According to ACNielsen, candy sales by volume were flat in the four weeks leading up to Oct. 31, 2001 compared with the same period in 2000.

Retailers and marketers, nevertheless, are maintaining the Halloween spirit. Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma's Pottery Barn, for example, have added Halloween sections to their catalogs. "Halloween is our biggest season," said Andy Bailen, exec VP-merchandising and marketing at retailer Party City.

The big costume hit this year, Mr. Bailen said, is Spider-Man. The character is also central to the Halloween plan at Viacom's Blockbuster, which is giving away life-size replicas of Spidey in stores and holding midnight events to bolster the Oct. 1 DVD and video release of the Sony Pictures Entertainment film.

Although fewer than last year, there will still be traditional Halloween howls on the airwaves. Walgreen's, which will recut commercials shot for last year's season, will try to get two hits from Halloween, first as a costume and planning place, and then for last-minute shopping, according to Craig Sinclair, senior VP-advertising. WalMart is also doing a Halloween ad. Barton Beers' Corona is using horror music in a spot breaking Oct. 14 spoofing its usual serene beach scenes, with an effort showing a lurking figure over its bottle and lime from created by Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago.

shriek week

Universal Orlando Resort is backing special Halloween events at the park with cross-promotional ads from partners Coca-Cola Co. and Yum Brands' Taco Bell. David & Goliath, Los Angeles, is the agency. Viacom's Nickelodeon, meanwhile, plans a "Shriek Week," including a "Nick or Treat" on-air sweepstakes that hypes co-branded candies with Hershey Food Co., a Rugrats cookies-and-cream candy bar, a SpongeBob SquarePants Milk Chocolate with Almond bar, and a Jimmy Neutron chocolate bar. AOL Time Warner's Cartoon Network and Keebler Co. are linking for a new Scooby-Doo cookie for Halloween with a $1 off-coupon purchase of the movie DVD release. n

Fast Facts

Halloween sales 1996: $2.5 billion

Halloween sales 2001: $6.9 billion

Expected Halloween sales 2002: $6.9 billion

Christmas sales 2001: $210.2 billion

Source: National Retail Federation

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