Sweet little almonds shaped like a heart with the word “Almond Joy” emblazoned on the front are a fixture at Bulk Barn, the Maryland chain of discount supermarkets that offers high-quality products from mainstream manufacturers at rock-bottom prices.
Bulk Barn’s snack selections have largely eschewed snacks that many Americans associate with Halloween: the average U.S. adult eats 2,000 calories on Halloween each year, on average, and about 45 percent of those calories are from sweets, according to the American Heart Association.
The candy is in bigger supply than ever this year, fueling a spike in consumer demand. But the consumption represents a drop in the bucket compared with the holiday’s heavy consumption. Last year, Americans consumed an average of 146 million pounds of Halloween candy per year, according to the Association of Confectioners of America.
So Bulk Barn, which sells more than 50,000 individual sugar almonds in bags starting at $1, may have won some Thanksgiving season and Fourth of July eating contests, but the chain is already getting ready for Halloween, and has salespeople reminding customers not to forget the treats.
“It’s a competitor of ours,” said spokeswoman Natalie Pung. “The way we do it, we keep our holiday offerings fresh, but it does help to have a snack that is a little candy, but also a treat.”
Jennifer Scanlon, vice president of marketing at distributor IGA Food Service, said the Halloween holiday season draws a different customer.
“The bulk stores have a nice assortment for bulk shoppers,” Scanlon said. “We’ve seen a lot of Halloween, a little more Halloween than the year before.”
Packaged foods with multiple flavors have become common ingredients in Halloween snacks and party treats, Scanlon said. The sentiment is getting stronger among retailers like Bulk Barn, Wal-Mart and Costco, whose shelves are stocked with no fewer than six pumpkin spice-flavored products, she said.
“It’s a natural for party time, for eating on the go,” Scanlon said. “I think a lot of the more upscale places are also offering it.”
The volume of peanut butter, marshmallow and cinnamon marshmallow-topped candy bites often determines the winner in a departmental game where price is often king. The cheapest category, she said, is usually one that uses peanuts, sugar and starches to make a candy bar. The priciest, she said, is in the middle — chocolate bars may still be a top choice but artisanal nuts could be just as trendy — and in that category is everything from black walnuts to walnut halves to classic almonds.
“Virtually the entire candy selection can be found for less than $1,” she said.
Often, Bulk Barn has more than one kind of almond, usually made from a variety of nuts that do not contain oil, Pung said. The chain will also sell mini versions for those who want a little more flavor. Its regular sized almond hearts have more oatmeal-flavored oil, and the California-grown almonds used in the hearts have been treated to fend off bacteria. Some walnuts and cashews sell for extra cost, Pung said.
A single bag of standard-sized nut almonds cost about $1.12 each at Bulk Barn, but because of the way the retailer keeps its holiday offerings new and fresh, supplies will be limited, according to Pung.
“Somebody could come in and buy all the nuts, so they’ll have to get through two bags on their own,” she said.
Customers can also buy snack products at Bulk Barn that are not synonymous with the holiday season. The chain carries the Food Lion brand, including hummus, potato chips and peanut butter jars, and its cakes are made by Valrhona, which is also selling $1-chocolate-covered almonds that join the Reese’s peanut butter cups and Butterfingers in Bulk Barn’s candy selection.
Asked about the glut of Halloween candy this year, Scanlon said, “I’m not surprised, because we were so low two years ago.” But no matter how easy it may be to avoid, she said, “everyone still makes candy” and so “you just have to get creative.”