This time of year, there’s a similar phenomenon, but with a different fruit. Call it “pumpkinizing.” Wherever your autumn travels may take you, you’re likely to run into pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks along the way.
And no, we’re not talking the old standby, pumpkin pie. (Although those are available too — individual ones at McDonald’s, right next to the cherry pies.)
We’re talking Pumpkin Pop Tarts, Edy’s pumpkin ice cream and Jell-O pumpkin instant pudding. Philadelphia pumpkin cream cheese and Pinkberry pumpkin frozen yogurt. Mars pumpkin-spice M&Ms.
Bruegger’s stocks a pumpkin-flavored bagel. Sonic has pumpkin pie milkshakes. Dairy Queen has pumpkin Blizzards. Kraft has pumpkin spiced marshmallows. Planters has pumpkin-spiced nuts. Krispy Kreme has added a pumpkin cheesecake doughnut.
Time was, apples — cider, fritters, pie — were the taste of fall. Not any more. Now the familiar Thanksgiving mix of cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg is what signals summer’s end and customers are eating it up.
Restaurants’ pumpkin-flavored, limited-time items were up 234 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to Datassential MenuTrends and menu mentions of pumpkin for 2013 are already up 6 percent compared with this time last year.
Pumpkin’s even gone boozy.
Crop Organic Vodka just launched Spiced Pumpkin Vodka. Pinnacle sells a Pumpkin Pie vodka. Hiram Walker has a Pumpkin Spice liqueur. Sam Adams sells pumpkin beers and ales.
Rhode Island-based Sons of Liberty Spirit Company has introduced Pumpkin Spice Whiskey — which might be a great way to spike all the pumpkin flavored coffees and lattes showing up in stores and restaurants this month.
For most of the year, America may run on Dunkin, but in the fall, Dunkin runs on pumpkin. Come mid-August, fans start counting down to the post-Labor Day release of the chain’s pumpkin spice coffee, made with a pumpkin flavored syrup.
Like Kaara Koplowitz. The 30-something West Hartford resident goes, well, out of her gourd for the pumpkin flavored brew.
“This coffee, this flavor, just says fall to me,” says Koplowitz. “It means it’s time to get out my boots, my skinny jeans and my sweaters. I start craving it in July. And the fact that pumpkin coffee tastes like dessert for breakfast doesn’t hurt either.”
In response to the growing consumer demand for all things pumpkin, Dunkin’ Donuts has expanded its seasonal menu this year. Along with its flavored coffee, (available in Pumpkin, Pumpkin Mocha, and Pumpkin White Chocolate), pumpkin Munchkins and pumpkin muffins, it’s added a new pumpkin pie donut and frozen pumpkin coffee Coolatta. The chain also sells bags of pumpkin flavored ground coffee.
“Perhaps more than any other flavor, pumpkin evokes feelings of nostalgia and comfort, and as fall approaches each year our guests show tremendous excitement and anticipation for the return of our pumpkin menu items,” says Stan Frankenthaler, Executive Chef and Vice President of Product Innovation at Dunkin’ Brands. “We love delighting our fans with their favorite fall items, as well as some brand new pumpkin treats.”
The other coffee giant, Starbucks, has a similar pumpkin-nation fan base. The company says it’s sold more than 200 million cups of its Pumpkin Spice Latte, or “PSL” for short, since the flavor was introduced in 2003. (That’s about 20 million a year.)
“There’s always so much excitement and anticipation for the return of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte each year, and it has become our most popular seasonal beverage of all time,” said Cliff Burrows, group president, Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, in a press release. “We hear from our customers year-round that drinking their first Pumpkin Spice Latte is when they know fall has arrived.”
Starbucks wasn’t sure how the drink would be received when it first introduced the flavor, but it’s been so popular that this year, Starbucks is celebrating its 10th anniversary with special “PSL”- branded merchandise, such as tumblers and gift cards. The drink has its own Facebook fan page and website, http://psl.starbucks.com.
There’s even a petition on Change.org for Starbucks to offer a vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte. (The syrup formula contains condensed milk.)
“It’s been great to see the trajectory over the past decade, because when we launched PSL ten years ago — yes it has a nickname now — we took a bit of a risk on a new innovation,” said Peter Dukes, director of espresso brand management at Starbucks and a co-creator of PSL. “You just didn’t see pumpkin-flavored food and beverages ten years ago the way you do today.”
In most cases, pumpkinized foods have seasonal availability, which means most will vanish around Thanksgiving — just in time for all the gingerbread and peppermint-flavored products to appear. Kaara Koplowitz finds the prospect depressing.
“Those other flavors don’t hold up, so I try to get my pumpkin coffee fix every day while I can,” says Koplowitz. “I know it’s going to be gone soon and then I have to wait months before it’s back.”