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Nation’s Sweet Tooth Goes Trick-or-Treating

Here’s good news: Nearly three-quarters of U.S. households will be handing out candy to trick-or-treaters this Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

But here’s better news: One-quarter of those households will be handing out full-size packages of candy, not those puny “fun-size” and “snack-size” miniatures that have become normal Halloween fare, says Nancy Childs, professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Childs is a longtime observer of the role that food companies play in American culture. Trick-or-treating first became a regular custom on the American scene in the 1920s, she told BusinessNewsDaily, but it was a more homespun proposition then. Neighbors would hand out things like apples, pastries, breads and even money.

Our sweet tooth began developing, she said, when candy-coated and caramel-coated apples started to become a Halloween tradition. Soon, both became the gateway sweet treats that paved the way for the introduction of commercially produced candies as part of the holiday tradition.

“Companies went after Halloween candy a long time ago,” Childs said. “Candy companies are active and aggressive marketers who offer convenient prepackaged treats to fulfill the tradition. Halloween is now a model for other holidays — candy baskets for Easter, candy canes for Christmas, holiday-themed M&Ms, chocolates for Valentine’s Day.”

Halloween is firmly enshrined in the American holiday pantheon. It’s become the second largest holiday, trailing only Christmas in its popularity and ringing of the cash register. The NRF predicts it will account for $5.8 billion in sales this year, up from $4.75 billion last year.

The average American will spend $66.28 on Halloween this year, NRF says. Candy is second only to costumes in this tally. Whether the candy is full-size or fun-size, this year’s sweet stash will set the average family back $20.29, a big jump after the stingy chill of 2009. Nationally, the tab for Halloween candy in 2010 will be $1.8 billion, which translates into 598 million pounds of confectionary delight. It’s the biggest holiday for confections after Easter.

Candy doesn’t really need much of a hard sell to wend its way into the American pantry — 99 percent of all households buy candy each year.

It’s also firmly embedded in the American psyche as a touchstone for fun and warm emotional memories, much like Proust’s madeleines.

To support that notion, Childs describes a candy-association exercise she uses with her university classes. She gives each student a Hershey Kiss and asks them to vocalize their associations with the chocolate candy.

“The students are always amazed at how many vivid and emotional memories they have wrapped inside a Hershey Kiss — childhood, holidays, favorite times, grandparents ,” she said. “This emotional connection is very real.”

That connection is frequently echoed in the treats that adults subsequently dispense for Halloween.

“People will tend to hand out their favorite candy,” Childs said.

More than half of all adults will be handing out candy because “it’s a personal favorite” (62 percent) or because it’s a household tradition (55 percent), according to the National Confectioners Association. And 90 percent of them admit to sneaking treats from their kids’ trick-or-treat bags.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@TechMediaNetwork.com. Follow him on twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.