The Halloween trading period is worth more than 20 times what it was 10 years ago. For some it’s now bigger than Easter. What’s behind this impressive growth asks James Halliwell

For some, Halloween means a psycho in a hockey mask slashing teenagers to ribbons with a razor-sharp knife.

For the rest of us, fortunately, Halloween is mostly about tiny terrors in ghoulish fancy dress bellowing 'trick or treat' and knocking on the front door. You open up and hand out some sweets unless you forgot to stock up beforehand, in which case you might find yourself cowering behind the door, lights off and curtains drawn, while eggs splatter against your windows. It's as simple as that.

For the retail industry, however, Halloween has become much more than a quirky night of fun for the kids. What once involved hauling a pallet of pumpkins on to the shop floor in mid-October has turned into one of the biggest events of the year. For Asda, Halloween proved a stronger trading period than Easter in 2010. And across grocery retail as a whole, sales have rocketed over the past decade, from £12m in 2001 to more than £280m in 2010, according to Planet Retail. So what is behind this scarily impressive growth and is there more to come or is the category about to plateau?

To begin with, consumer demand for Halloween-themed goods has prompted a raft of ghoulish NPD. Manufacturers including Haribo, Leaf, Kraft, Premier Foods, Nestlé and Tangerine Confectionery dramatically increased their Halloween-specific ranges in 2009 and 2010.

"There was a gradual realisation in the industry that the consumer had a strong appetite for Halloween products," says Natasha Briant-Evans, brand manager for events at Kraft Foods. "And in the last couple of years, it has really started to boom."

Retailers have embraced the occasion, too. Many have started ramping up their promotional activity, dedicating entire aisles to spooky paraphernalia and Halloween-themed food with the intention of "reminding mums to buy", says Simon Hawkes, head of seasonal cake at Premier Foods.

The timing of Halloween itself over the past three years it has fallen on a weekend during the school autumn half term has also been a significant factor, giving consumers ample opportunity to shop hard for the occasion as well as simply celebrate it.

The recent surge in popularity of vampire-themed books and films, most notably the Twilight series, has also helped the industry. Jo Carr, trade marketing manager at Leaf, says it has broadened Halloween's appeal and "brought consumers of all ages to the occasion".

The affordability of popular Halloween items like masks and fun-size treats has boosted the occasion further still, she adds. With many consumers looking to economise, round-pound stores such as Poundland have joined the multiples in embracing the holiday.

"Halloween is massive for us," confirms a Poundland spokeswoman. "We have a vast range of products, including fancy dress, and it gets bigger every year."

Poundland may be upping its commitment to Halloween, but supermarkets remain the major players. Sainsbury's has big plans for 2011, claims a spokeswoman: "Our range has more than twice as many products available as last year," she says. "And over 80% of our products for 2011 are either new or improved."

And while Asda is conceding market share in confectionery as Sainsbury's and Morrisons ramp up their offerings, Asda's US parentage means it really pushes the boat out during the build up. "Walmart really drives us forward with Halloween," says a spokeswoman. "We absolutely love it and so do customers. We have a huge range of products across all categories. Last year, sales-wise, it was bigger for us than Easter."

In 2010, Asda was forced to hire extra seasonal staff to cope with the demand around Halloween. The supermarket says it was selling 10,000 sets of vampire teeth every day, a witch costume every 10 seconds online and 45,000 pumpkins a week. At the time, Liz Evison, festive buyer at Asda, remarked on the rise and rise of Halloween. "It gets bigger by the year. I've never seen anything like it," she said.

This being Halloween, though, is there a nasty shock hiding just around the corner? With it falling just a couple of months before Santa comes to town, is there not a risk that its rapid expansion could start to eat into Christmas sales?

Kraft watched the figures "very closely" last year for that very reason, but saw no impact. "Our Halloween sales were totally incremental," says Briant-Evans.

Some feared a growing Halloween would impact on Christmas, but that's not been the case, agrees Hawkes. "Retailers are waiting until Halloween has finished before really pushing Christmas," he says.

The fact that retailers are prepared to make Christmas wait shows just how established Halloween has become. Which begs the question, how big can it get?

The figures speak for themselves. In 2010, Kraft's Halloween value sales grew by 28% year-on-year [Nielsen]. Leaf says Chewits Vampire Fangs sold 13% more in volume in 2010 than in 2009. And according to Nestlé, its Halloween confectionery sales grew by 51% in 2009 and another 46% in 2010 to £11m [IRI]. "It is growing in leaps and bounds," says a spokesman.

Halloween has also proven itself a good testing ground for new confectionery products. Haribo has launched several seasonal treats including its Super Sour Monsters in 2009 which are now on shelf year-round.

Premier has jumped on the bandwagon, too, focusing hard on Halloween for the first time in 2009, and seeing "remarkable" results, says Hawkes. "Our own sales tripled, and total Halloween cake sales grew by 35% [SIG]."

When it comes to future growth, Hawkes suggests the industry looks across the pond for further inspiration.

But Carr suggests that, for the UK at least, the US may not offer the perfect blueprint to follow. "We need to adapt for the UK consumer rather than trying to copy US successes," she says.

Echoing Carr's caution, Briant-Evans points out that the markets are quite different. "In the US, everyone embraces the novelty and the dressing up, but generally Brits are a little more reserved," she says.

With the exception of those tiny terrors who will come calling on 31 October. Just don't forget to stock up on treats.

Focus On Halloween