By Elyse Desmarais on September 28, 2015
With Fall officially here, it’s hard not to notice the invasion of pumpkin-flavored products taking over the store shelves. From pumpkin tortilla chips to match your salsa and guacamole to PSL M&M’s, it seems like every retailer is jumping on board to participate in this hot trend. For pumpkin lovers, this is great news, which according to a recent Nielsen report, there are a lot of you.
So where did this madness originate? When did pumpkin pie first see its competition? For me, it was 2005 at a local farm stand in my hometown where I tried pumpkin-flavored ice cream for the first time. I remember my friends and I being taken aback by the flavor option saying, “It couldn’t be any good.” And then we tried it and told everyone about the delicious insanity.
For most everyone else, Starbucks is responsible for creating the trend with the unleashing of their Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003 with customers ordering more than 200 million lattes since. Flash forward to 2014, where the same Nielsen report indicates 37% of U.S. consumers purchased a pumpkin-flavored product in that year. Also in 2014, pumpkin products accounted for $361 million in sales, growing 79% since 2011.
Interestingly enough, despite the growing number of pumpkin-flavored products hitting the shelves and their increasing popularity, pumpkin pie filling is still the number one seller in this category. In 2014 it accounted for $134, 786, 923 in sales, with pumpkin-flavored cream in a distant second with $47, 907, 993 in sales. These leaders in the pumpkin-flavored world were followed by coffee, baking mixes, and baked bread.
Despite the pumpkin-flavored obsession many Americans have succumbed to, it’s unclear whether people like pumpkin the vegetable, or just pumpkin flavoring. The Washington Post investigates this phenomenon in a 2014 report, finding from USDA data that “per capita pumpkin consumption has barely budged over the past 20 years.” The report goes on to state that fresh pumpkin consumption is much lower than it was in the late 1990s and in 2012 Americans consumed only a little over 5 pounds of pumpkin per person, a full pound less than in 1998.
Nielsen continues to push this issue by reporting that since 2011, fresh pumpkins have seen unit sale losses, which continued into 2013 and 2014. These losses account for 8.6 million fewer pumpkins sold.
So while it’s clear pumpkin-flavored products are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, it seems there could be an unfortunate fate for fresh pumpkin sales as they continue to decline. Next time you order a PSL latte or attempt to conquer a sleeve of pumpkin-flavored oreos, remember the unsung hero who was the original creator of this Fall time ritual.
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