FAMILIES are expected to hack away at 100,000 pumpkins this year, devour lollies by the bucket load and dress their children with fangs, spooky ghost sheets or witches hats as the ghoulish festival of Halloween becomes increasingly popular with Australian households.
Leading supermarket chains have spent millions of dollars to promote Halloween, which will be celebrated on the last night of October, with sales of easier-to-carve Jack O'Lantern pumpkins already up 30 per cent.
Confectionery companies have created special Halloween chocolates for the Australian market to feed the growing popularity of the essentially American holiday, with Coles reporting sales of chocolate on Halloween day three times higher than on normal trading days.
''People will start shopping from this week on, but really October 30 is our biggest trading day around Halloween,'' said the Coles general manager of merchandise, Chris Garlick.
''We are seeing a gradual increase in how many customers get involved, and it's probably a generational thing, too, where this generation with young kids at the moment are getting more and more into it.''
Not to be outdone, Woolworths is selling a pumpkin-flavoured beer and is using social media to spread the word with online tools such as instructions on how to carve a pumpkin and offering customers a stencil to download.
The fresh produce wholesaler Moraitis is the only grower of Halloween pumpkins in Australia and is expecting to sell about 100,000 this season to the leading supermarket chains as well as independent grocers. Moraitis has increased its Jack O'Lantern pumpkin planting 10 per cent a year to meet demand.
And Halloween is proving to be a young person's event. New data from McCrindle Research has unveiled that those people in Generation Y (aged 18-31) were far more likely to have celebrated Halloween in the past than Generation X (aged 32-46) and Baby Boomers ( aged 46-65).
The social researcher Mark McCrindle said that when asked whether they had ever celebrated Halloween, 53 per cent of Gen Ys said they had, against 45 per cent of Gen Xs and 40 per cent of Baby Boomers. More than 50 per cent of parents with children in primary school planned to embrace Halloween, Mr McCrindle said.
''It is certainly growing,'' said the chief executive of the Australian National Retailers Association, Margy Osmond. ''It's another opportunity to have a bit of a celebration with the family, so there is quite a bit of Halloween-specific products creeping into the stores … and we do know across our membership it's getting more popular.''
Retailers say the event is still small in terms of expenditure compared with Mother's or Father's Day or the week of the AFL and NRL grand finals, but is growing at least 10 to 15 per cent a year - led by money spent on chocolates and costumes that typically sell below $15. Sales of toilet paper also do well, as children wrap themselves up to look like mummies.