Flavour of fall
If autumn has an aroma, pumpkin spice is it. What’s curious about pumpkin spice is the absence of pumpkin in it! The blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice (or some variation of these), got its name for being used in fall baking recipes such as pumpkin pie.
The fruit – yup, pumpkin is a fruit – is rich in potassium and vitamins A and C. Many pumpkin spice products outside of pies and muffins now include the fruit as an ingredient, usually in purée form. Califia Farms, for instance, uses pumpkin purée to make its dairy-free, plant-based pumpkin-flavoured products including Pumpkin Spice Latte, Pumpkin Spice Creamer and Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista.
“Pumpkin and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg trigger positive vibes associated with the changing of the seasons,” says Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing officer for California-based Califia Farms, of the flavour’s popularity.
Oh my gourd!
The pumpkin spice craze is going strong and showing no signs of slowing down. Future Market Insights pegs its market value at US$1.5 billion and estimates it to top $2.4 billion by 2033. Popular brands in Canada with a seasonal pumpkin spice flavour are seeing annual growth. Since its 2018 debut and return to Canadian shelves every autumn since, limited-edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios (PSC) has grown 17% year-over-year, says Zack Bloch, associate brand manager, Cheerios at General Mills. “PSC is our most popular limited-edition product.” (Other seasonal General Mills staples include Halloween-themed Count Chocula and spring/Easter-themed Reese’s Puffs Bunnies.)
From 2008 to 2022, four in five pumpkin spice-flavoured food and beverage product launches were from North America, with baked goods making up 29% of them in 2022, according to a June 2023 report from Innova Market Insights.
That was followed by dairy and hot beverages (13% each), soft drinks (10%), alcoholic beverages (9%), cereals (8%), desserts and ice cream (7%). While every fall, The Big Carrot bakes pumpkin spice muffins and cookies in-store, the hot items are cereal, yogurt and granola, says the Toronto grocer’s operations manager John Gousvaris.
“The appetite for pumpkin spice has extended well beyond just the baking category,” agrees Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights. “From snack mixes and ice cream to baby drinks and alcoholic beverages, the market globally has been seeing a lot of innovations with pumpkin spice flavour from various subcategories.”
Among the 2023 launches in Canada, the Innova report highlights Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino Blend Powdered Mix For Breastfeeding Moms from Saskatoon-based nutritional brand Milkin’ More.
Autumn in August
Halloween treats won’t be the only products hitting store shelves before fall’s official start on Sept. 23. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios has been launching “earlier over the past few years so the item can hit the shelf prior to September,” says Bloch. “It allows our grocers a longer period to build awareness.”
Ginestro of Califia Farms agrees that pumpkin spice season starts in August, “and we continue to see strong sales through December.” This year, the company is partnering with Sobeys and Loblaws on a national program to create “a dedicated perimeter display for the season to bring more visibility to this growing category.” Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista, which doesn’t require refrigeration, “will be found on endcaps,” she says. “It’s a new point of interruption to engage consumers and help drive trial.”
This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s August 2023 issue.