JK Rowling should be given a pat on the back from retailers across the country. Having made a sizeable impact on the book and film world, the Harry Potter series has helped to promote Halloween as a major event.
Although the UK is yet to embrace Halloween as warmly as the USA, TNS Superpanel figures show that an estimated 1.5 million households are now really getting involved in celebrating October 31 and are spending about £120m on the occasion - some £5.5m of which goes on confectionery.
This is good news for convenience retailers who are in a prime position to stock lower-priced trick or treat sweets and treats for children. So how should retailers generate excitement around Halloween?
Stuart Hancock, UK sales manager for Sweetcred, says: "Retailers can use manufacturers' point of sale materials, shelf-ready displays or create their own in-store theatre. This should then be positioned where consumers can see it from the outset, but not in too fast a customer flow area."
But although Halloween can create a valuable opportunity, the season is short and retailers need to take care when choosing products. Hancock says one of the benefits of a display is that it can help to generate interest without the need to sell Halloween-specific products. He suggests stocking up on items such as fun-size bags, bumper bags and surprise bags to drive basket spend with little risk of residual hangovers.
For instance, Hancock says Sweetcred's range of Glo Sticks should sell throughout the winter party season. The range includes neckwear, armwear, a whistle stick and a Super Glow multipack.
Mr Lucky Bags marketing director Carl Richardson agrees that retailers should choose products wisely. "What we've tried to do is stay away from mentioning 'Halloween' as a word as it limits suppliers and retailers. If you're more abstract in the design you can cover other occasions, such as Bonfire Night.
"We find retailers are starting to think more seriously about stock control. It's all well and good going for the sale, but if it doesn't move in the quantity you expect it to, you have a problem."
Although Mr Lucky Bags offers two Halloween Capsules and a Lucky Bag in a new design for 2007, products such as the Scooby Doo Bumper Party Pack can be sold all year round.
"That's why licensing works tremendously well, as Scooby Doo is a perennial character but is associated with mystery and spooks, which fits in with the Halloween theme," says Richardson.
Hancocks senior buyer Jonathan Summerley says retailers can also limit the risk of residual stock by choosing lower-priced products. Alongside classic favourites such as skull crushers and vampire teeth, new products for 2007 include a hollow chocolate pumpkin retailing at £2.99, Kinnerton Halloween Bars at 15p and scary-faced Halloween lollies, which retail at 69p. Six of the 18 available products are in the pick and mix range, including giant rats and jelly bones, all retailing at between 5p and 25p.
Trick or treat?
In bagged confectionery, the message is the same. Maoam's Haribo Horror Mix was originally launched as a limited edition Halloween line, but was so popular it is now available all year round.
New products launched at the beginning of September include a 250g bag containing mini-packs of Starmix and a 250g Haribo Mega-Party Bag with an assortment of mini-bags of Starmix, Tangfastics and Kiddie's Supermix. Both have a rrp of £1.49 and are available in cases of 10.
Rory Goodwin, sales director of Haribo Pontefract, says, "The new multipack formats are ideal for trick or treating, but they will continue to be available as regular lines within our portfolio throughout the year.
"There's no doubt Halloween is now very much part of the events calendar in the UK, and it's an opportunity which can reap rewards for retailers with very little effort."
Halloween can also be an ideal time for promotions and this year Coca-Cola Enterprises (CEE) is launching special Fanta, Sprite and Dr Pepper packs offering consumers the chance to win '2 for 1' admission to a number of Halloween-themed nights at attractions in the UK.
The promotion is being backed by marketing activity including a two-week radio campaign, branded PR, web activity and regional press. On September 3, CEE also launched new spooky designs for Fanta Zero and Sprite Zero.
But alongside Halloween promotions and children's sweets and toys, retailers should notice an increase in adult party drinks and snacks. Natasha Burton, marketing manager at shopper traffic analyst FootFall, says: "Halloween is now the second biggest event for single people after New Year. Adults as much as children are using the occasion to throw parties and dress up, which retailers are taking advantage of by stocking up on themed products."
According to Retail FootFall Index 2006, there was a 12.2% increase in shoppers between October 23 and October 29 2006. This translates into profits, and last year adult soft drink Shloer noticed an 84% rise in sales in the week prior to Halloween.
Getting in the spirit
Alec Gardener from Budgens East Bergholt in Essex says the popularity of Halloween has been growing considerably over the past 10 years, becoming a much bigger occasion.
He says: "It has now replaced the fireworks celebration in store and has seen the biggest seasonal growth compared with Easter and Christmas. In fact, it's the last seasonal milestone before the big Christmas push."
Alec says witches' broomsticks and masks are popular, alongside light-up ghosts and novelty cakes. He helps to drive footfall by dressing the window with a Halloween-themed display, including cobwebs and pumpkins.
Bruce Hodgson from Budgens in London's Fulham will also be dressing the store and he always ensures there's availability of key products like traditional pumpkins and sweets.
"We'll also have some old-fashioned toffee apples to give away free to any kids who come into the store in their best fancy dress," he says. "The key thing with Halloween is that it has become a real community occasion - perfect for a community store like us."
So when should you start getting ready for Halloween? Hancock says the earlier the better. "The benefit of starting early is that you're sowing a seed in consumers' minds. Don't think that because you put the Halloween display out four or five weeks early you'll suddenly see an increase in sales - what you're doing is preparing the consumer to choose you as a future destination."
Hancock says independent retailers should also keep one eye on the multiples. "It's almost like 'Halloween watch' - if it's available somewhere else you're already losing sales," he says.