RETAILERS LOOK TO REAP WEEKEND HALLOWEEN SALES

Supermarkets are looking forward to an extra Halloween sales boost after building momentum up to this year's weekend event on Sunday, Oct. 31 by promoting autumn-related novelties and decorations, according to retailers interviewed by SN.Retailers' treat this year is that Halloween lands on the weekend."Peak selling years are directly related to the day of the week in which Halloween falls," said

Supermarkets are looking forward to an extra Halloween sales boost after building momentum up to this year's weekend event on Sunday, Oct. 31 by promoting autumn-related novelties and decorations, according to retailers interviewed by SN.

Retailers' treat this year is that Halloween lands on the weekend.

"Peak selling years are directly related to the day of the week in which Halloween falls," said Bryon Roberts, vice president, liquor and general merchandise, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. "Whenever it falls on a Friday through Sunday, we have extra strong sales."

Dave Burkstrand, corporate seasonal category manager, Supervalu, Minneapolis, said he expects double-digit Halloween sales gains this year. "It's still a big business and growing," he noted.

According to Boyd Irving, category seasonal manager, Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, "It is nice because Halloween falls on the weekend. So there are more parties, which in turn generate more sales for costumes and decorations."

Tandy Arrant, category manager, United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, also expects an uptick in Halloween business because it falls on Sunday. "Halloween is big," he said. "Adults are having themed parties. The whole store gets involved from produce with pumpkins to bakery with cookies and cakes."

National Retail Federation's 2004 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey estimated Halloween spending will be $3.12 billion this year, up from $2.96 billion last year.

"The base business is driven by decor, both inside and outside the home," Burkstrand of Supervalu said. He added that technologies like fiber optics and animation have driven sales of some Halloween general merchandise gadgets. "Costumes are good [sellers] and growing due to new higher-quality juvenile plush costumes," he said. "This year, we are seeing stronger sales in items [like costumes, accessories and makeup] related to adult parties."

Jeff Manning, managing partner, F&M Merchant Group, Lewisville, Texas, said the market is getting more excited about fall home decor for the entire season. "There's a lot of nice indoor stuff that is fall-related and not necessarily Halloween that seems to sell real well right now," he said. "You can use it up to Thanksgiving."

Brian Snyder, general merchandise category manager, Associated Wholesalers, York, Pa., said his company's members merchandise fall-themed next to Halloween items. Associated tied its advertising with a "best buy" month-long temporary price reduction on items like make-up kits and pumpkin-carving sets, said Snyder.

Mike Forrest, general category manager for Brookshire Bros., Lufkin, Texas, said he sees retailers, especially Wal-Mart Stores, capitalizing on the autumn season in general. "I think more people are going to fall festivals and getting away from door-to-door [Halloween trick or treating]. So you have to accommodate that," he said.

Brookshire merchandises fall-themed decorations in the lobby along with Halloween costumes, masks, big spiders and scarecrows.

The NRF survey noted Halloween is the second-biggest decorating holiday of the year, with 61.8% of consumers planning to purchase decorations.

The survey said the average consumer will spend $43.57 on Halloween merchandise this year. Candy remains a popular Halloween purchase, with the average consumer planning to spend $14.83 on sweets this year, second only to costumes at $15.21.

Halloween, considered the sixth-largest spending holiday by NRF, will be celebrated most among young adults, with more than 69% of 18- to 34-year-olds planning to celebrate the holiday. Over half of 18 -to 24-year-olds will dress in costume (54.1%), and throw or attend a party (50.6%). Most consumers 55 and over will hand out candy (82.7%).

Said Jeff Lowrance, a spokesman for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., "Halloween grows in popularity. At one time, it was seen as a day of fun for children. Now all ages get involved with the celebration and parties."

Roberts of Bashas' said consumers' Halloween preferences have shifted since 9-11.

"I have seen a change in products being purchased to a more friendly, funny type of product, as opposed to the more gruesome items that sold well before Sept. 11," he said.

He said Bashas' creates a Halloween theme by merchandising Halloween products in the seasonal aisle along with candy, usually beginning in mid-September.

Burkstrand said Supervalu's Halloween displays depend on the size of the store and range from 16 to 48 feet.

"We provide a Halloween planning guide, in which we provide planograms, category adjacencies, cross-merchandising opportunities, promotional items, an industry breakdown of category sales benchmarks, weekly sales budget, best practice and a markdown guide," he said. He said more emphasis has been placed on power panels and counter displays to get the product off the floor in order to satisfy retailers' clean-floor policies.

SN visited several stores in New Jersey to observe how retailers were merchandising their Halloween displays. A Wal-Mart discount store in Manville featured autumn ceramic leaf bowls, platters and tin buckets that retailed from $2.46 to $14.76 in the center aisle. Wal-Mart placed its Halloween aisle between the toy and garden sections. Aside from costumes and accessories, which took up most of the space, the store had a skull strobe light, $12.88; Cornerstone 18-gallon storage containers in orange and black, $3.44; Kodak disposable cameras, $9.44; a singing and dancing 5-inch skeleton, $59.73; and pumpkin pails, 78 cents.

Said Karen Burk, a Wal-Mart Stores spokeswoman in Bentonville, Ark., "We understand that many customers enjoy throwing parties, and we make sure we have the home items on hand for decoration. Home decor, candles and lights are among Wal-Mart's home Halloween mix this year."

Wegmans Food Markets, Bridgewater, merchandised an assortment of adult party supplies. Wegmans allotted about 18 feet to a "Halloween Headquarters" in the center store area. Merchandise included Halloween-themed tablecloths, $9.99; Halloween Sounds CDs, $2.99; and plastic skull martini shakers, goblets, shot glasses, champaign glasses and ice buckets, $1.99.

A Pathmark store in Somerville also sold seasonal products in a "Halloween Headquarters" center aisle, where items like Freaky Geeks, a witch that sings an altered version of "Evil Ways," was offered for $19.99; a 15-inch 3-D crystal pumpkin for $24.99; and a singing and dancing skeleton door knocker, $9.99.

Shop Rite, Bound Brook, designated approximately 25 feet to a Halloween display at the front of the store. Items included Halloween wooden door signs, $3.99; 25-foot extension cords, $4.99; Halloween Enchantress Barbie, $9.99; and six- to eight-foot-high, air-blown characters, including Shrek, for $38.88.