As the temperature plummets, coats come out and autumn sets in, it’s no surprise that shoppers are looking for something to cheer them up in the long, dark days before Christmas. And last year it looked like they found it in Halloween.

The festival celebrating all things ghoulish and ghastly has made its way across the Atlantic to become one of the UK consumer’s most popular dates in the calendar. Today’s families have fully embraced the event, transforming it into a £325m sales occasion, according to Planet Retail.

As consumer confidence starts to return, it looks like a category that’s good for supernatural growth in the future, too.

“Halloween continues to outperform in terms of growth with a 9.2% value and 11.8% unit growth across all categories,” says Bev Rushbrook, trade marketing manager at Cloetta UK, which manufactures Chewits. “This indicates that the nation is becoming more emotionally engaged with this seasonal event and are willing to spend more money year on year.”

Perfect timing

Like all seasonal stock, Halloween merchandise needs careful management. Order too much and you’ll be marking it all down the minute November comes around. However, get too little and you could risk losing business on the big night.

Amarjit Bhdaal says that his Halloween stock tends to come in during September, before going straight out on the shop floor. But he doesn’t recommend promoting it until October is under way as customers aren’t quite ready before then.

“People don’t want to think about Halloween when it’s still sunny out,” he says. “Having said that, last year we went in a little late with it - we could have really got going around three to four days earlier.

“That’s the learning for this year. About a week-and-a-half before the actual Halloween date seems to work for us, any later and you might miss out.”

Add to all this the fact that Halloween falls on Friday in 2014 (which should inspire a few impromptu parties) and during the school half-term, and you have an occasion for c-stores to celebrate this year, too.

So how can c-store owners make sure they don’t put the frighteners on potentially big Halloween profits? For many, it’s a case of entering into the spirit of the season and finding fresh ways to connect with the community’s celebrations.

Amarjit Bhdaal from Spar Auckley in Doncaster confirms that Halloween is becoming an important event for c-store retailers across the country. “Halloween is pretty big for us these days,” he says. “It’s nothing like we remember from being kids! Today it’s very Americanised - and all the local kids want to get involved. It feels like a real community thing.”

Last year Amarjit added to the sense of occasion by laying on a face painter to put scary faces on kids coming into the store on the night itself.

“We really made an effort to make sure we were part of the local kids’ trick or treat route,” he says. “As well as the face painting we had a buffet-style table with sweets and pop so the kids could come in and have a sit down. It’s hard to quantify exactly how well it did in business terms, but it created lots of buzz and the kids enjoyed it.”

Amarjit explains that this kind of event is as much about giving back to the community as it is boosting his bottom line. “If it’s all about making money at the expense of anything else then you’re going to come into difficulties,” he says.

“It’s a goodwill gesture to show we’re in this for the long-term, rather than out for a fast buck. It’s a symbiotic relationship and it’s as much the customers’ store as ours. And by doing something like this we can get the next generation involved in the store, too.”

Another retailer scaring up plenty of custom during Halloween is Jacqui Bayley from Spar London Road in Lincolnshire.

She agrees that the key to getting the most out of October 31 is to make it a special event. “Last year was the first time we really made an occasion of Halloween in the store and it definitely led to an uplift in sales,” she says.

At the centre of her celebrations was a ‘Trick or Treat’ event she held in-store where kids could come in and stock up on treats and enter a Halloween-themed fancy dress competition.

Cakes and home-baking get into the spirit of Halloween

Confectionery may be a favourite for the season, but cakes also make a strong showing come October.

“The total Halloween packaged cakes market for 2013 was worth £7.9m, growing at 1.9% year on year,” says Matthew Critchley, category marketing director at Premier Foods.

He says that Premier captured almost half (49%) of the market thanks to big brands such as Cadbury and Mr Kipling. Both are bringing new blood to the table this year with Mr Kipling Choc & Slime Choices and Cadbury Shock Orange Mini Rolls.

Last year saw the event evolving from something for the kids to an important date for adults, too, says Critchley.

“Retailers should therefore capitalise on this trend by catering for the trick or treat occasion, as well as the adult Halloween party.”

It’s not just shop-bought selections raising pulses either. Mintel has pinpointed Halloween-themed baking launches as a big untapped market in the UK.

Last year, according to IRI, the ‘colours’ baking subcategory saw a 74% uplift over Halloween with shoppers rushing to get orange and black ingredients - the most popular icing choice over the period.

“Unlike Christmas and Easter where the focus is on the aesthetics of baking, Halloween provides a great opportunity for creativity,” says Gill Davies, executive head of marketing at Dr Oetker. “Retailers excel during this period, offering bespoke recipes, off-shelf space and even power aisles, which resonate with consumers.”

“It was really about letting the kids know that they’d be welcome,” she says. “We were going to get some face painting done, but in the end it would have worked out too expensive for us. The kids loved it anyway - they love dressing up for Halloween.”

After getting the all-important parents’ consent, Jacqui put photos from the event up on the store’s Facebook page.

“It was interesting how much attention the site got because of that. We had plenty of family members clicking through to look at the pictures,” she says.

Special effects

Jacqui’s Halloween planning started early and the themed stock covered not just the usual lines; she also considered what the young and old of Lincolnshire would be dressing up in, and ordered a simple costume rail and did well with it last year.

It’s important not to overlook the opportunity to involve dressing up in the Halloween mix. Though some keen types will spend ages sourcing their outfit, others will be looking to grab a mask en route to the party. In fact, the costume category is one of the key drivers of the category, according to Cloetta’s Rushbrook, and it contributes 40% of category growth.

To source something really special for his store, Amarjit researched what the big American retailers were up to. “I was looking online at one of the big American stores (they’re massive on Halloween over there) and I found these really good images of faces that people had painted on pumpkins,” he says. “They looked really good, so I asked one of our ladies, who’s a bit artistic, if she could paint some for us to decorate the store.”

As well as creating a suitably spooky atmosphere within the shop they also helped to signpost the shop’s pumpkin stock.

“We had 10 boxes all in all and I think we sold about 60 pumpkins,” he says. “The painted ones started out as decorations, but when the pumpkin stock went down we started to sell those as well.”

While costumes, drama and pumpkins play a big role, confectionery remains at the heart of Halloween. According to IRI, sales of seasonal confectionery are on the rise, with an 11.3% jump in value sales around the event last year.

Amarjit believes that for him there’s two distinct kinds of customers to target when it comes to making the most of Halloween sweets. On the one hand he has to cater for the kids (and their parents) who are out trick and treating and want to pop in for supplies. On the other, there’s the adults planning parties at home, or those who want to be ready to greet the roaming packs of children with seasonal sweets and treats.

Sales explosion

Halloween may be a growing occasion, but it’s not the only bright spot on the winter calendar. Bonfire Night can be an explosive chance for retailers to light up their balance sheet as well.

“There tends to be two main windows for selling fireworks. These are in the run-up to Bonfire Night, and New Year’s Eve,” says Shane Brennan, public affairs director at the Association of Convenience Stores. “A good selection of retailers sell them and I think it’s as much a community service as a commercial opportunity.”

Selling fireworks: the law

Those wishing to sell fireworks need to be sure of the law. Here’s some essential tips from Selling Fireworks, the Association of Convenience Stores’ free guide.

Get advice. In almost all cases you should speak to your trading standards service at your local council and ask for a visit to assess your suitability for selling fireworks. Make these approaches some months prior to fireworks season.

Store fireworks safely. Keep them in a dedicated stock room if possible, otherwise in a fire resistant store cupboard, container, or cabinet. Leave a clear space between light fittings and the fireworks.

Stick to legal products. Only fireworks that comply with European safety standards carry the CE mark, and only those which are correctly labelled with details of the manufacturer and importer can legally be supplied to consumers.

Selling fireworks today is a highly regulated area and Brennan says that today’s retailers have to be far more responsible than years gone by and know exactly what they have to do to stay on the right side of the law. “I think stores definitely get the fact that there’s a lot to take on board in terms of safety,” he says.

Ian Line, sales manager from Black Cat Fireworks, says that there’s no need for retailers to be put off by the exacting safety requirements. “While there are stricter controls around the sale and storage of fireworks, there is nothing in these that should scare off reputable retailers,” he says. “Mostly, the rules focus on the safe storage of the fireworks both on and off the shop floor and that all sales are made within the legal (age) limitations.”

He adds that most retailers should expect some set-up costs to make sure fireworks are stored correctly, but explains that these will be outweighed by the profit opportunity available.

In convenience stores space is at a premium, which means that fireworks have to fight it out against other high-margin lines.

Despite this, Line maintains that space-starved retailers needn’t worry about getting in the big boys, when the more compact fireworks still deliver the goods.

“There is a misconception that bigger is better with fireworks, but many people don’t have the space to stock the larger items in our range and there is a growing demand for smaller fireworks that still offer the ‘wow’ factor,” he says.

“The bangs and bursts have to be scaled down, but it is still possible to produce some jaw-dropping effects with a small firework,” he points out.

All of which means that if the local demand is there, and you can grab some help getting your head around the regulations, fireworks could help make November sales go with a bang.


Chewits with bite

This year Chewits is embracing the dark side with new Vampire Fangs - fang-shaped jelly sweets ideal for customers to get their teeth into.

Sweets with a blast from the past

Nostalgic parents will get a kick from this retro-themed I Love Sweets variety pack. Each 200g bag is priced at £1 and features a mix of old favourites such as Kola Frosties, Dip Dabs and Wham Bars.

Bags of fun

Burton’s Biscuit Company is mixing things up for 2014 with its new Trick or Treat biscuit assortment. Each bag is stuffed with 15 mini bags featuring Cadbury Mini Fingers, Mini Animal Dinosaurs and other Halloween treats.

M&M’s get new look for Halloween

Mars Chocolate UK has launched Halloween-themed green and orange 100g (rrp £1.19) and 300g (rrp £3.29) bags of M&M’s. To help retailers capitalise on the spooky season, Mars is also providing dump bins and freestanding display units.

Frightful Fancies

Premier’s Mr Kipling Fancies make a return to its Halloween line-up. Fiendish Fancies features orange icing, while Toffee Terror Whirls combines toffee flavour and buttercream. They are available from September with an rrp of £1.

Mini Babybel is out of this world

Mini BabyBel is getting in on the seasonal fun with an augmented reality and gaming app. Players will be able to download it to their devices and use the app to create a unique augmented experience with six special on-pack Halloween characters. Plus, they can take the characters online in a special themed game. Meanwhile, low-tech shoppers can still appreciate the scary shelf appeal with creepy seasonal pumpkin and monster pack designs.

Monster POS

AG Barr is helping retailers scare up sales with Barr and Irn-Bru Halloween-themed POS material. Head of marketing Adrian Troy says: “Displays are key when it comes to making the most of the Halloween opportunity. Using Irn-Bru and Barr products with our Halloween POS will enable retailers to catch shoppers’ attention.”

Cakes to add some fireworks

McVitie’s Cake Company is to launch Halloween and Bonfire editions of its top ranges. McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes Spooky and Lemon & Slime Cake Bars will both be available in packs of five with an rrp of £1. There will also be new designs for its Tate & Lyle Bonfire Toffee and Sticky Toffee Apple cakes (rrp £1). The products will be available from early September.

Halloween treats

Haribo and Maoam is getting into the spirit with scary sharing and multi-bags. Sporting a purple and black design, Trick or Treat minis are fun multi-bags ideal for portion control, while Maoam Halloween Mix offers a ghastly way to get the party started.