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Howling for Halloween stock

This Saturday, millions of tiny monsters, ghouls and witches will be unleashed onto America’s streets in search of one thing: candy. New Zealand consumers are traditionally reluctant to celebrate Halloween, but retailers are seeing more and more Kiwi shoppers jumping on board the ghost train.

Martha’s Backyard is a specialist retailer stocking goods from the US in Auckland’s Mount Wellington. Owner Sandy Graham, who is from New York State, says Halloween has always been “really big” with customers.

The store dedicates an entire wall to Halloween displays, and also erects at least two large floor displays. It imports specialist Halloween decorations, costumes, lollies and more for the occasion.

Halloween is an enormous retail event in the US. It’s traditionally associated with all things ghoulish and spooky, and also the end-of-season harvest – hence the focus on pumpkins. Sales of fresh pumpkin have been declining since 2011, says Nielsen, but there isn’t a pumpkin-flavoured Halloween tie-in product that US consumers aren’t willing to buy.

According to Nielsen, pumpkin products have grown 79 percent since 2011 to account for $361 million in sales in the last year alone. The flavouring can be found in everything from toothpaste to Starbucks’ famous pumpkin spice latte.

According to a survey from the US National Retail Federation, total spending on Halloween from US consumers is expected to reach US$6.9 billion. The largest spend will be on adult costumes (US$1.2 billion) with a total of $950 million on childrens’ costumers and $350 million on costumes for pets.

Nine out of 10 Halloween shoppers will buy candy, spending a total of US$2.1 billion, says the NRF.

Graham says customers typically return to Martha’s Backyard to buy multiple loads of lollies and costume kit for Halloween: “We tell people, just grab a little bit at a time.”

While Martha’s Backyard caters to US expats who miss their home comforts, Kiwi customers also shop there. Graham says she recognises that many Kiwis are opposed to Halloween and respects this, but believes New Zealanders on the whole are warming to the holiday as there’s a big increase in sales every year.

“I asked my husband why there’s been an increase, and he said, ‘Kiwis love a party,’” Graham says.

Some aspects of the traditional stateside Halloween haven’t crossed the Pacific. Halloween costumes and accessories which glow in the dark don’t work in New Zealand, Graham says, because while it gets dark around 5.30pm on Halloween in the US, New Zealand’s spring days last too long for children to wait until nightfall for trick-or-treating.

Asked what Halloween means to Americans, Graham says the answer is simple: “For kids, it’s definitely about candy.”

“For adults, it’s just, you get to be a kid again, dress up and have a good time.”

 Halloween is also the first in a tight series of American celebrations, Graham says. It heralds Thanksgiving on November 26 and Christmas.

Asked how well she considers Kiwi retailers are handling Halloween, Graham says she feels the market is yet to be satisfied, judging by the number of inquiries Martha’s Backyard receives.

Online store MightyApe is getting into the swing of things, having put its trademark monkey mascots in spooky costumes, and Trade Me has a section selling Halloween-related goods for some time. Discount retailer Looksharp has tricked out its website in pumpkin orange.

The best grassroots Kiwi effort seems to come from The Warehouse – and so it should, given that New Zealand’s largest listed retailer has been selling Halloween products for at least 20 years. A spokesperson from The Warehouse Group would not reveal much detail, but says sales of Halloween goods have really started to take off over the last three years.

“In store, we continue to offer more choice for customers… from non-scary costumes, like princesses and angels through to traditional costumes like pumpkins and skeletons,” she says. “This year, Star Wars and Minions are also key themes in the costume department.”

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