NEW YORK, June 3 (Reuters) - U.S. Easter confectionery sales surged 6 percent, higher than expected, with chocolate eggs and bunnies leading the surge during the second biggest candy-selling holiday, the National Confectioners Association (NCA) said on Tuesday.
The positive sign for chocolate makers comes as they get ready to make treats for Halloween in October, the biggest holiday for U.S. confectionery sales.
"Chocolate was clearly the driver, and the driver behind chocolate was we saw significant gains in seasonal items," said Larry Wilson, vice president of Customer Relations for the NCA, adding that stores had an average of five new chocolate items on their shelves over Easter.
Easter candy sales soared to a record $2.307 billion in 2014, far above the average 1 percent to 3 percent annual growth and the NCA's expectation of a 4 percent increase year-over-year. The main reason for the sharp rise in sales is that Easter fell late on April 20, giving retailers nine weeks to promote the seasonal goodies after Valentine's Day, Wilson said.
The NCA does not include gum in their tally of Easter confectionery sales.
In 2013, Easter was on March 31, only six weeks after Valentine's Day, another significant holiday for chocolate sales, causing an overlap in seasonal promotions.
Chocolate sales surged 7.1 percent to $1.338 billion, making up about 58 percent of the total Easter confectionery market, Wilson said.
Prices also had something to do with the improved candy sales.
"In (the) past, we'd seen pricing go up significantly. Because we saw pricing up less, we saw units tracking better with dollars to the positive," Wilson said.
The average retail price for chocolate rose 1.5 percent during the Easter season, a smaller increase than the 6.8 percent seen in 2012 and 4.6 percent rise in 2013, he said.
"Right now we're seeing just over 2 percent, which is very consistent with food in general," Wilson said. (Reporting by Marcy Nicholson; editing by Gunna Dickson)