In this era of childhood obesity, Halloween is a holiday in need of a little less evil. “It's a scary holiday but it doesn't have to be scary nutritionally for parents,” said Melissa Hooper, dietitian for Stater Bros. Markets, the San Bernardino, Calif.-based supermarket chain. “It's important for them to remember that if they don't want to give away candy, there are options.”
Candy remains the name of the game on Halloween, though the economy seems to have dampened the level of enthusiasm. Overall sales in 2008 were up only a marginal 0.3% in 2008, according to Information Resources Inc. and compiled by the National Confectioners Association. While drug stores and mass merchants saw slight increases, supermarkets saw sales of themed products and large bags of fun-size and snack-size products fall 1.8%.
The recession aside, parents continue to shop around more better-for-you treats, according to experts. Supermarkets are in an ideal position to offer alternatives.
“Parents are always saying they don't want their kids eating too much sugar,” said Casey Campbell, a registered dietitian who works with low-income families through the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “It's a concern we hear over and over again — too much sugar, too much juice, too much candy on those new teeth.”
Over the past few years, a number of more healthful options to traditional candy have been ringing up higher sales, and creative supermarket merchandising has helped broaden the range of possibilities available to trick-or-treaters. Sugar-free gum, granola bars, tea or cocoa packets, trail mix and even dental-care kits are replacing the chocolate bars and gummy worms in many a treat bag.
“Some parents may not like the sweeteners in sugar-free gum, but at least it's not pure sugar,” said Campbell, who adds that supermarkets can help by giving a higher profile to lesser-evil giveaways.
Retailers can also move private-label fruit roll-ups or granola bars to the candy aisle during peak holiday shopping times to give both health and the store's own brand higher visibility. Similarly, they can point out that individual packets of flavored herbal teas and hot chocolate are a possibile treat as well.
Nonfood treats are yet another option, and even here, stores can move beyond the obvious pencil erasers and rubber spiders. Setting up a floor display of plastic baggies will remind parents to divvy up their kids' Halloween stashes into daily portions. Hooper even thinks supermarkets can stretch themselves to include an endcap display of dental care products to protect those little teeth from a true evil: the dentist's drill.
“I've known people who give away little toothbrushes and samples of toothpaste at their door, in addition to some candy,” she said. “The kids like the candy; the parents like the toothpaste.”