Dividends: How Sweet It Is

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The folks at Hershey Foods Corp. are feeling very happy these days. Reese's Pieces, a steady but unspectacular-selling brand of candy, has blossomed into an unexpected summer hit. Sales of the peanut butter-flavored candy shot up 65% in June after the release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which is filling movie theaters at a record clip. In the film, E.T., an endearing space creature, is lured out of hiding by a boy who scatters pieces of the candy in his path.

This movie tie-in all but fell into the lap of Hershey, which sold some $35 million worth of Reese's Pieces last year. E.T.'s producers offered to use the Hershey product only after Mars, Inc., maker of M & Ms, turned it down. Hershey Vice President Jack Dowd then flew to Hollywood to see still photos from the film and make sure that the candy was not going to be in a monster film.

Reese's Pieces look very much like M & Ms, and the brand name is not mentioned in the film. But keen-eyed children quickly spotted the orange Reese's Pieces wrapper, and the rush to the candy counter was on. Hershey is now giving away an E.T. sticker with every bag of Reese's Pieces bought in 800 of the 1,100 theaters showing the movie. Five bags earn a free T shirt. Really sweet-toothed fans can redeem the labels from five half-pound sacks for a poster of favorite scenes from the film. That would be enough Reese's Pieces to entice a spaceshipload of E.T.s.