The trick to getting the most out of Halloween is to plan way ahead -- and plan to feature items that set you apart.
That's what in-store bakery executives told SN this month in a spot check of retailers' Halloween marketing strategies.
Retailers said that thinking about the holiday early has enabled them to get specialty packaging in, make deals with other departments for cross-merchandising, and carve out places in the store for secondary displays.
For one retailer, it means bringing in decorators at 2 a.m., in order to have plenty of its decorated cupcakes available when the store opens.
"For the first time, we've partnered with our grocery people to have a cupcake and cookie display in the candy aisle," said a source at a large Northeast chain. "We've actually put slanted trays in four-foot sections right in line on the candy shelves in some stores. We were able to do this because we got started on it so much earlier this year."
Because of an early start, the chain also has special packaging this year to perk up its cookie trays.
"We ordered the heavy cellophane that's used on gift baskets. It's printed with little Halloween figures. We're using that as an overwrap for a pound of cookies in a black-based pie container, and we're retailing them for more than $5," the source added.
Tyrone Curry, bakery director for Copps Corp.,Stevens Point, Wis., said planning this year was very detailed because he's aiming to push Halloween sales up 10% over last year. Copps owns 18 Copps Food Centers and is the wholesaler-distributor for 35 IGA supermarkets.
"We told our bakery managers at a planning meeting exactly what's to be done, item by item," Curry said. "We're focusing on our decorated items, since we have very capable decorators. We'll bring our decorators in as early as 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Halloween itself, because we need to have plenty of cupcakes and cakes ready to go at 6 a.m."
He added that it's not unusual for teachers to stop by for three or four dozen cupcakes or cookies on the way to school, when the holiday falls on a school day.
Curry at Copps capitalized on Copps' decorators' skills to introduce a new item this year -- a giant brownie with a pumpkin face.
"We've had experience with 12-inch cookies, and this year one of our associates suggested we do the same thing with a brownie. It looks great," he said of the brownies which are round, a little less than an inch thick, covered in orange icing. Curry is also pushing 12-count decorated cupcakes for a big ring. He declined, however, to reveal the retail price of any of the items.
Other retailers, too, are focusing on 12-count packages of cupcakes, instead of 6-count packs as they have in the past. "We're going after children's parties with them. It's a nice ring at $4.99," said a bakery executive who did not want to be named.
Cupcakes are in the spotlight at Steven's Food Stores, Nashville, Tenn., because "our customers told us that's what they want," said Daisy King, home economist for the 5-unit independent.
"Besides, everybody has cookies. Our customers said they want something that looks homemade; we get very creative with decorations," King added.
Hand-decorated shortbread cookies, retailing at $3.99 a dozen, are being featured at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash.
"Hand-decorated items are such big sellers for us, and Halloween comes pretty close to Easter in volume for us. We expect sales to be up 8% over last year. Sales are growing every year," said George Jenkins, bakery-deli buyer-merchandiser for the 16-unit retailer. "We also do a good job with our giant muffins, orange and chocolate, at Halloween," Jenkins said; they're six for $2.99. Customers who plan ahead will get a special discount at Busch's Valu Land, Ann Arbor, Mich. On advance orders of decorated shortbread cookies, in quantities of at least two dozen, customers get a 10% discount, said Dan Courser, vice president of perishables for the 9-unit, upscale independent.
A new item, Vermont pumpkin walnut cheesecake, was designed to grab customers' attention this year. "We've already taken a tremendous number of orders for them," Courser said one week into October. The cakes are set at $12.99 each.
Cakes with edible images of witches, goblins and ghosts are the key products being promoted at Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., this year.
"We push snack cakes and single layer rounds with edible images because it's a good gross and they're big impulse items," said Alan Christiansen, bakery buyer-merchandiser for the 27-unit chain. The rounds and the square snack cakes retail for $4.99 and $3.99, respectively.