Tricks, trends and budget-friendly tips for Halloween treats

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candy corn - Americans are buying more candy than everAmericans gobbled up 24.3 pounds of candy per person last year, according to statistics from the Bloomington-based Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC), with most of the sweet stuff being devoured around Halloween. It's the candy industry's biggest holiday and the latest survey by the IBRC revealed even more of us (65%) plan to party with pumpkins, costumes and candy than last year's recession rocked revelers (62.1%).

The difference, however, is more enthusiasm, not more stuff.

Despite the fact the National Retail Federation's2010 Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey predicts Americans will spend a whopping $5.8 billion on Halloween festivities (insert Psycho music here) or roughly $66.28 on average, and 72% said they would be handing out candy, 86% of respondents revealed they planned to spend less than last year. Some 45% of those polled said they would be buying less candy.

The trick here is that the price of treats has risen in the past year. Still in spite of a scary economy, the survey suggests our national craving for sweets cannot be spooked.

The IBRC reports that 35 million pounds of candy corn, or 9 million pieces, will be produced this year and that isn't even America's favorite. The research center revealed that Tootsie Rolls rank first in popularity, just above Hershey's Milk Chocolate and Nestle Crunch. Sweeeet!

And of course, there is always something new to tempt us. Rosa Li, candy connoisseur and author of ZOMG, Candy! blog reports that the biggest trend in candy over the last few years has represented a move towards treats that are, "organic, all natural, gluten-free" and sometimes "a combination of the above."

"I think that's a trend in general as people become more conscious about the food that they eat -what it's made from, how it's made, where it comes from."

Sugar daddy, Mark Dobie, author of SugarPressure another comprehensive candy blog, told WalletPop that in his opinion, the "Best All-Natural Candy to give to trick-or-treaters would be the Clark Bar assorted mini pack. NECCO has reformulated this bar to use real chocolate and all natural ingredients. It is about the best snack size candy bar you can find right now, with its wonderful crunchy texture and molasses peanut butter flavor."

You heard it here first.

In addition, Dobie notes that the Virginia-based Mars candy company has undertaken one of the biggest roll-outs of new product he has seen in years. The salty and sweetM&M Pretzel Chocolate Candies are one example. "Mars is spending an enormous amount of money on advertising this product and you will see large displays of snack packs for Halloween," said Dobie.

This year Mars has also introduced Snickers Brand Peanut Butter Squared,Snickers Xtreme Bar, and Dove Sugar Free Chocolates with Peanut Butter Creme. Mars vice president of sales, Jim Murphy said, "According to industry research, peanut butter candy is growing at twice the rate as the overall candy industry."

Dobie said, "Another big trend this year is everything covered in chocolate," with one of the best new "twists on a classic" being chocolate-covered pumpkin-shaped Peeps. "It's amazing to me how Just Born keeps innovating to create new products for the Peeps line." He noted the pumpkin Peeps will be featured in both Milk and Dark chocolate.

For party planners looking to raise the cool quotient, Dobie suggests Gummy Body Parts. "My favorite brand is made by the Frankford Candy and Chocolate Company. Not only do they have very realistic looking body parts, brains, hands, feet, fingers, ears ... but they actually taste very good." I'll take his word for it.

Dobie says thoughtful party guests might want to consider bringing the hostess a box of Madelaine Chocolate Company pumpkin print foil-covered chocolate balls, "You can't go wrong." Dobie explains, "This is an overlooked chocolate company that makes fantastic chocolate at the $5 price point. Godiva Gems are also a fantastic choice for a hostess gift. It is a chocolate brand everyone knows and at $4, they seem a much bigger splurge than their true price."

"If you want to give away the best goodies on your block," advises Dobie, "I would highly recommend Pop Rocks covered in chocolate. These are new this year. If that price point is too high, I would highly recommend the Caramel Apple Pops by Tootsie." Dobie reports the pops are also new to the market and, "have a fantastic taste, nice price, and are much better than the bag of Dum Dums that everyone else is giving out."

"As far as good, inexpensive candy, that's a toughie," admits Li, "Often, you get what you pay for. Trader Joe's sometimes has stuff that's a great deal. For generic candy bars, avoid ones that say chocolaty instead of chocolate. That chocolaty is marketing code for contains no real chocolate."

To stay on budget, Li suggests, "One strategy that I've done in the past for trick-or-treaters is to have one bowl of top tier candy -- usually fun size, not mini, candy bars, and another bowl of less exciting candy."

Li explains, "those cheaper mixes with things like Tootsie Rolls, Smarties, Dum Dums. When kids come to the door, they get one good candy and a bunch of less [expensive] candy. So you don't have to break the bank, but you also won't be labeled as the house of lameness."
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