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Easter gives sales springtime boost

Bunny corn, ‘mystery beans’ joining Peeps, honey hams for the holiday

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It's not comparable to Christmas nor Valentine's Day, but Easter spending on honey hams and chocolate bunnies still provides a springtime kick to the American economy, according to a leading national retail group.

Easter spending could reach $17.2 billion in 2013, the National Retail Federation reported in its annual Easter spending survey.

The average consumer will spend about $145 on candy, decor, clothing and food, which is about the same as last year.

This is expected to provide a nice boost for businesses.

"Retailers are already lining their shelves with specials on chocolates, warm-weather apparel and even gardening tools and outdoor furniture," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.

According to the NRF survey, Easter weekend is a popular time for consumers shop for springtime clothes. Nearly half of all consumers who celebrate Easter will purchase new apparel during the holiday weekend, spending an average of $25.91.

The NFR also reports that nine in 10 families plan to purchase Easter candy for the kids, while spending an average of $20.66 on everything from jelly beans and marshmallow bunnies to chocolate eggs.

Just Born, the Pennsylvania-based company that makes Peeps, said Easter accounts for about half of their annual sales of the marshmallow candies shaped as bunnies. This year, it is baking 1 billion Peeps for Easter weekend to keep up with strong demand. Production is up 25 percent from last year.

In addition to the traditional Peeps, the company is also making a giant Peeps bunny, chocolate-flavored Peeps, and chocolate eggs with a Peep inside.

"The history of Peeps is connected with Easter," Peeps spokeswoman Ellie Deardoff said. "Kids can sit and eat a few Peeps, they can dip them in chocolate, they can dip them in hot chocolate, they can put them on a cupcake, they can place them in a campfire and use them for s'mores."

At Jelly Belly, the California-based company is introducing a new mystery bean around Easter. Like hunting for Easter eggs, children taste the mystery bean and have to guess the flavor.

Jelly Belly also is making bunny corn, which is like candy corn but with Easter colors.

Rob Swaigen, vice president of marketing at Jelly Belly, said the Easter weekend accounts for about 20 percent of the company's annual sales -- and for other jelly bean-makers it can represent as much as 50 percent of annual sales.

"Easter is an important holiday for us," he said. "We're consumed year-round, but around Easter we definitely get a spike."

Restaurants and grocery stores also should be packed this holiday. The NRF reports that about 87 percent of families that celebrate Easter will spend about $45 on the holiday meal.

The National Restaurant Association predicts 33 million Americans will go out to eat for Easter, with 51 percent of those diners looking for a buffet meal. Four in 10 say they must have ham, while 27 percent will be looking for eggs as part of their meal.

In Cleveland Park, Dino is preparing a family-focused environment for Easter weekend. The Italian restaurant says reservations are up 20 to 30 percent from last year, and it expects to be twice as busy as it would be on a regular Sunday.

"We try to make Dino not very restaurantlike, but more like you're a guest coming into our home," said Dean Gold, owner and chef at Dino. "On Easter Sunday, we'll have kids everywhere, we just love it, it's part of what we do."

Meanwhile, food market Society Fair in Alexandria is preparing "Easter Breakfast Bags" that people can take home and cook themselves.

And to perhaps compete with Peeps, their chefs are making marshmallows shaped like Easter eggs and rolled in sugar.

"As in any holiday, we've gotten some Easter rush," said Vina Sananikone of Society Fair. "There's definitely a pick-up in business."

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