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Why the Easter Bunny Is a Retail Beast

Stocks in this article: WMT TGT TJX SNE

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- The Easter Bunny may look fluffy and cute, but retailers know there's a lot of consumer-toned muscle beneath that fuzzy exterior.

Easter may not have the profile of other more secularly oriented holidays, but the bunny is a retail beast. Easter brought in more than $14 billion last year, accounting for 6.1% of all holiday spending, according to IBISWorld. That's good for fifth among its holiday cohorts behind the winter holidays (59.2%), Thanksgiving (13.4%), Valentine's Day (7.5%) and Mother's Day (6.5%).

Easter brought in more than $14 billion last year, fifth among all holidays, and it's not all about chocolate bunnies.

Last year, the 79.6% of Americans who celebrated Easter spent an average of $118.60 on the holiday. The overwhelming majority of that spending went right into the Easter baskets as food ($37.45), gifts ($18.16) and candy ($17.29). For such companies as Tootsie Roll (TR - Get Report), Hershey's (HSY - Get Report) and Kraft (KFT) -- which is on its second year of making Cadbury Creme Eggs -- Easter is a $1.9 billion basket of goodies with candy sales second only to Halloween's $2 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association.

"Easter is obviously a religious holiday, but many retailers have discovered that Americans consider Easter the official kickoff to spring," says Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. "We've found that millions of Americans head out every spring to buy not only Easter-related products, but to buy new spring apparel."

While roughly 65% of Americans got their chocolate, jelly beans and decorations at discount stores such as Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT), Kmart (SHLD - Get Report), Kohls (KSS - Get Report) and Fred Meyer (KRO - Get Report) last year, they were putting a lot more into the cart than just holiday treats. The NRF says that roughly 39.2% of Americans spent an average of $19 on Easter apparel last year -- fueling sales when there is seemingly little incentive to do so.

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