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Cha-ching! Halloween is all treat for candymakers

Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association
Source: National Confectioners Association
Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association

Candymakers are looking to get a multibillion-dollar haul this Halloween.

Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), which represents more than 300 candy companies, told CNBC that Halloween candy sales are projected to top $2.3 billion, up 1 percent from last year.

(Read more: Sugar rush! Chocolate stocks soar this Halloween)

Halloween is the biggest holiday for candy producers, followed by Easter, Christmas and Valentine's Day. The four holidays account for about 30 to 35 percent of all candy sales, NCA said.

Uncertainty surrounding the government shutdown doesn't seem to have affected American spending on Halloween candy, Graham said. A greater influence has been people's worries about diet and health.

(Read more: The 10 most haunted cities in America)

Candy displayed at a Walgreens in Wheeling, Ill.
Getty Images
Candy displayed at a Walgreens in Wheeling, Ill.

"We agree you shouldn't have too much sugar in your diet, but this is one time a year and we don't think this has an impact on people's diets," he said.

"People are overconcerned about fun holidays like this," Graham said. "Some schools are restrictive, and we don't think it's necessary."

Overall "the candy industry is doing OK," he said, adding that it's not recession-proof, but more recession-resistant than other consumer sectors.

Nearly three-fourths of all candy purchased at Halloween is chocolate. Candymakers' concerns include stocks and prices of ingredients such as sugar, cocoa and nuts, with long-term supplies of cocoa a special worry.

It can be grown only in a limited area—the belt 20 degrees north and south of the equator, and a cocoa tree take four to five years to produce fruit after planting, according to the NCA.

Global demand for chocolate has been rising, as developing economies such as China, India and Brazil have a growing appetite for chocolate and more discretionary income to buy it, according to an NCA spokesperson.

Candy prices have risen 7 percent in the past year, according to the association.

In an industry overwhelmingly composed of small family companies, the two biggest players are Hershey and Nestlé, the spokesperson said.

(Read more: Hershey's profit rises on strong sales)

Hershey shares hit an all-time high Wednesday. The stock has risen over 40 percent in the past year. The company reported third-quarter earnings last week that beat expectations and raised its earnings-per-share growth guidance for the second time in less than 18 months. Its 12-month trailing price-to-earnings ratio, often used to determine the value of a stock, is about 29.

Packaged foods analyst Thilo Wrede at Jefferies increased his price target on Hersey shares to $95, citing better cost leverage and the fact that the company "does not seem to feel the effects of a weak consumer/slowing economies," he wrote in his latest note. He kept his hold rating on the stock.

In addition to its hallmark Hershey bars and Kisses, the company produces favorite Halloween brands such as Reese's, Almond Joy, Mounds and KitKat.

Swiss-based Nestlé is the world's largest packaged food and beverage company in terms of revenue, with a candy lineup that includes Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Sweet Tarts and Wonka.

Erin Lash, senior stock analyst at Morningstar, gives Nestlé local shares a four out of five-star rating and the American Depositary Receipts a three-star rating. The ADR shares have gained about 14 percent in the past year.

Nestlé has a price-to-earnings ratio of about 20 and a market cap of about $233 billion.

In her last note, Lash said the company is trading "at a more attractive valuation relative to Hershey." But, she added, bears are concerned that "the tough economic climate is causing consumers around the globe to rein in spending, and this could cause a significant short-term reduction in consumers' impulse purchases of products such as chocolate."

Watch the full interview on Thursday's "Street Signs" from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET.

—By CNBC's Katy Byron. Follow her on Twitter @kbyronCNBC

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