Halloween 2010: More Treat Than Trick

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Folks in Transylvania County, N.C., will be celebrating Halloween in style on Saturday with a festival that includes the 28th Annual "Flight of the Vampire" 5K Run & Competitive Race Walk. Yes, many participants will be in costume. The celebrations won't stop there.

Halloween spending is expected to grow 3.9% in 2010 to $6.2 billion, a rebound from disappointing results in 2009, according to market researchers IBISWorld. Spending on costumes is likely to rise 4.2% to $2.3 billion, while candy outlays should sweeten by 7.4% to $1.9 billion. The market researcher even predicts that sales of fresh pumpkins will jump 13%.

People may be in a more celebratory mood for many reasons. First, the holiday falls on a weekend this year, encouraging more participation. Also, people face plenty of real-life terrors nowadays, so laughing at the ghouls and goblins of Halloween is a good way to blow off steam. "People want to break out of the monotony of worrying about the recession," says Nikoleta Panteva, retail industry analyst at IBISWorld. "It does show a little more resilience than the general economy."

Celebrating Halloween also won't break many people's budgets. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average person will spend $66 on Halloween this year, little changed from 2008. That's not surprising since prices were probably cut on many items to encourage sales. Pets are also a big business. An NRF survey found that 11.5% of respondents planned to dress up their four-legged friends.

"Very Optimistic"

Hershey (HSY) recently reported disappointing fiscal third-quarter results but boosted its 2010 outlook. Spokespersons from Hershey could not be reached for comment about projections for Halloween. (Many candy companies associated with the holiday are closely held and don't divulge details about their business.) NDP Group figures about 5% of all candy consumption during the year occurs on Halloween and the following week. The National Confectioners Association, the candy industry's main lobby group, expects Halloween sales to be up slightly this year.

"We are coming into the largest confectionery holiday very optimistic," says NCA spokesperson Susan Whiteside, adding that sales have continued to rise during the economic slowdown. "We have not suffered the fates of many other industries."

Sales at Rubie's Costume, headquartered in Richmond Hill, N.Y., have continued to climb for the past several years and are up this Halloween as well, according to Howard Beige, a company vice president. He added that big sellers this year include Lady Gaga and the cast of Jersey Shore. Demand also remains high for classics such as Darth Vader.

No Witches, Please

Costumes are more accessible to consumers because of the growth of "pop-up stores" -- temporary shops set up in otherwise vacant retail locations -- which IBISWorld estimates grew by 15% this year. Costume prices average about $54, about 3.5% higher than last year. About 28% of consumers will likely make their own costumes this year.

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As for Transylvania County, Halloween is a touchy subject even though it shares its name with the fictional home of Count Dracula. That's because it's located in the Bible Belt, where some people think the holiday's traditions conflict with their religious values, says Madrid Zimmerman, executive director of the Heart of Brevard, a local nonprofit. Nestled in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, Transylvania has a population of about 30,000.

"It's a rather sensitive issue in this county," she says, adding that the festivities are purposely held on Saturdays to avoid conflicts with religious obligations . "We don't emphasize things like witches and black cats."

Still, some people are warming up to the promotional possibilities. Count Dracula is paying a visit to the blood bank as part of the county's Halloweenfest 2010, a celebration that's expected to attract a crowd of between 6,000 and 8,000.
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