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A new study from ACNielsen suggests that while people buy more candy during the week preceding Valentine's Day than during any other single week, this appears to be a more a testament to last minute thinking than romance run amok.

While the week before Valentine's Day is bigger for candy sales than the weeks before Easter, Halloween and Christmas, in that order, the total Valentine's Day season (defined as the six weeks leading up to the holiday) actually ranks fourth on that list of four holidays. People actually buy more candy during the six weeks leading up to Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, in that order.

"It appears that people tend to plan ahead when buying candy for Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, whereas Valentine’s Day generates more last-minute candy buying," said Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC’s Today Show and spokesperson for ACNielsen. "Manufacturers and retailers start promoting Valentine’s Day candy well in advance, but, for the most part, people tend to wait until the actual holiday draws closer. I don’t think that takes away from the romantic sentiments of Valentine’s Day candy buyers; lets just call them 'last-minute romantics.'"

According to the ACNielsen study, while throughout the year 62 percent of all candy sold is chocolate, during Valentine’s Day week that figure grows to 70 percent.

Much of the chocolate candy sold Valentine’s Day week is boxed. While holiday and boxed chocolate candy represents 32 percent of all chocolate candy sold throughout the year, it jumps to 72 percent of all chocolate candy sold during Valentine’s Day week – most of it packaged specifically for Valentine’s Day, such as that sold in heart-shaped boxes.

Valentine’s Day week is also unique in that it is the only week during the year when candy sales in drug stores outpace those of grocery stores. Throughout the year, grocery stores account for a little over half (53 percent) of all sales in grocery, drug, and mass merchandise stores (excluding Wal-Mart) combined. For the week of Valentine’s Day, however, those percentages are reversed. "Primarily, it’s a matter of candy assortment," Lempert explained. "Drug stores tend to stock a broader selection of boxed holiday-themed candy than grocery stores. As a result, drug stores have become the go-to destination for heart-shaped boxed candy."

One of the fastest-growing types of candy no matter what time of year is chocolate dietetic candy. While the $73-million dollar segment represents just one percent of all candy sold in the combined grocery/drug/mass merchandise channel, dollar volume was up 79% in 2002 while sales of all candy declined by one percent.
KC's View:
So, once again we've learned that traditional retailing instincts may be wrong when examining issues like selling candy for Valentine's Day. Clearly, a retailer doesn’t have to start marketing and merchandising around the holiday until a week or two before.

However, we wonder if this is as much a gender thing as a shopping preferences thing. After all, we'd guess that most of the people buying that candy for Valentine's Day are guys…and guys don’t tend to do things like this very early. (We're more likely to get to the office, glance at the calendar and go, "Damn, today's Valentine's Day…")

It also sounds like if grocery stores go after these holiday candy sales aggressively, especially by focusing on dietetic candy, they should be able to make some headway. (Though we wouldn’t want to be the husband who brought home dietetic candy for Valentine's Day…we'd probably get hit in the head with the heart-shaped box…)