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Halloween 2015: From pie mix to beer and bagels, there's been a proliferation of pumpkin-flavoured products

We're in a carving-pumpkin shortage – partly thanks to people consuming so many in flavoured food and drinks. Anna Hart explains how they're leading a taste revolution

Anna Hart
Wednesday 28 October 2015 23:30 GMT
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Gourd almighty: some of the million pumpkins that will be carved in Britain this weekend
Gourd almighty: some of the million pumpkins that will be carved in Britain this weekend (PA/Sainsburys)

The pumpkin effect continues, and this year no corner of the supermarket is safe, with pumpkin biscotti, “pumpkin pie mochi” ice cream, pumpkin beer and pumpkin cornbread croutons all calling to us from across the Atlantic. In the US, recent years have seen a proliferation of pumpkin-flavoured products on sale through the autumn months, and sales of boring old pumpkins themselves have risen 34 per cent over the past five years.

Nor does consumer demand show any sign of abating; Trader Joe's, the American supermarket franchise, has just added 60 limited-edition products, all pumpkin-oriented. (Many are, of course, “pumpkin-spiced”, a term which denotes a blend of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg – with no actual pumpkin involved at all.) New lines such as pumpkin tortilla chips, pumpkin panettone and pumpkin pie spice cookie butter have now joined last year's hits: pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin spice breakfast cereal.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, in spite of an influx of pumpkin-spiced goods, the most common approach to pumpkins remains puréeing them into soup. Occasionally we might roast them. Then normally we still put them in soup after that. But this year, British supermarkets have really clambered aboard the pumpkin bandwagon. At the moment, UK Whole Foods Market stores are stocking 20-plus pumpkin-oriented products, from pumpkin dark chocolate to pumpkin pie mix and BrewDog's Pumpkin King beer (as well as hand-painted jack-o'-lantern pumpkins at £5.99 each, decorated by in-store artists).

According to recent Nielsen figures, in 2014, pumpkin-spiced products generated £233m in US sales, and demand for pumpkin-oriented treats has increased by 79 per cent since 2011. Nobody quite predicted this popularity. Nielsen tracked only two pumpkin-flavoured beers on the US market in 1995, whereas today there are more than 80. There seems to be nothing that cannot be improved by a touch of pumpkin; pumpkin-flavoured oral hygiene products generated £67,000-worth of sales in America last year, and pumpkin-flavoured dog food £8m. It is the magic sales elixir of the moment, and last year, 37 per cent of US consumers purchased a pumpkin product.

Economists have pinned this proliferation of pumpkin-themed products at least partly on Starbucks, whose pumpkin spice latte is now the company's most successful seasonal beverage in history, generating £52m in revenue every season, as well as more than 3,000 mentions a day under its hashtag: #pumpkinspicelatte.

But the pumpkin spice phenomenon is part of a larger picture, with market analysts observing that consumers have a growing taste for new, strong flavours. Nielsen recently conducted a consumer study into flavoured alcoholic drinks in the US, where suppliers are pushing the limits from more conventional flavours such as vanilla, lemon, sweet tea and cinnamon into the avant-garde arena of peanut butter and jelly, salmon, pickle, acai, cucumber, horseradish, caramel, marshmallow, cake and apple pie.

Here in the UK, the most common approach to pumpkins remains puréeing them into soup (Rex) (Rex Features)

Today, 20 per cent of US vodka and 12 per cent of whisky sales come from flavoured varieties. Cinnamon-flavoured alcohol creates more than £129m annually; the peach-and-honey variety more than £65m. While the crisp flavours of our childhoods were far from subtle, they pale by comparison to newcomers such as the limited-edition smoked paprika with porcini and garlic butter Kettle Chips, and Red Sky's roasted red pepper and lime. Popcorn can't just be popcorn-flavoured, either; the UK gourmet popcorn industry, worth more than £50m every year, is built on flavours such as wasabi and sweet ginger.

Novelty flavours tend to succeed because they appeal to our fear of missing out. The easiest way to convince a buyer that they want something is to tell them they might not be able to have it. The seasonal or limited-edition run conjures up an artificial threat of scarcity around a product, bringing out our inner caveman. But the irony of this autumn's favourite “seasonal” product is that, while pumpkins are available only once a year, a bottle of pumpkin-spice flavouring has an unnaturally long shelf-life.

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