The very same children who label broccoli "gross" will suck candy boogers out of a plastic nose.
Candy isn't necessarily sweet anymore, in flavor or in demeanor. In fact, what's liable to land in the little ones' Halloween treat bags this year can seem downright disgusting to uptight grown-ups: gummy aliens, candy bones, chocolates that look like eyeballs and hard candy so sour, it's painful.
Exactly the kind of stuff that children love.
Traditional Halloween handouts like chocolate bars and lollipops are still huge sellers this time of year, but they're sharing shelf space with treats that reflect the frightful side of the season.
Stroll down the candy aisle and you're likely to be assaulted by such ghoulish goodies as Creepy Peepers (peanut-butter-filled chocolate balls wrapped in foil that make them resemble disembodied eyeballs) and Tongue Tattoo Space Alien Suckers (lollipops that are printed with black icing and are supposed to transfer the alien's face to the partaker's tongue).
Corpse imagery is big, of course Gummi Skulls, Skull Pops, Wild 'n Fruity Gummy Mummies and so is extreme candy like Shock Tarts and Mega Warheads, supersour candies that don't seem to bother children a bit but make adults screw up their faces into all kinds of scary contortions.
Even some of the old standbys are costumed for fright night. Treat-size Nestle Crunch bars, for instance, come imprinted with pictures of villains from Disney movies, and SweeTarts come in skull and bone shapes ("May they rest in pieces," the package implores).
The onslaught of gross and scary candy stems from candy manufacturers' efforts to set their products apart in a highly competitive market, according to Gregory Ziegler, a food scientist at Pennsylvania State University and chairman of its Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery Research Group.
"I think that, like a lot of industries, it's getting tougher and tougher to get novelty," Ziegler said.
This is also the time of year when candy companies reap their biggest profits.
Halloween leads all holidays in candy sales, with $1.953 billion predicted for this year, according to Susan Smith of the National Confectioners Assn. The next biggest holiday is Easter, which accounted for $1.856 billion in sales in 2000, Smith said.