Pumpkin spice in April: Should seasonal foods be available year round?

Dive Brief:

  • New Mintel research found that 67% of consumers enjoy eating certain seasonal ingredients year-round, according to Food Business News.

  • Consumers have an emotional connection to seasonal food and beverage products, with 27% saying they find seasonal flavors "nostalgic." Additionally, 39% of consumers associated seasonal flavors with the word "comforting," 39% with the world "special," 33% with "warmth" and 30% with "happy."

  • Almost half of Americans consider seasonal flavors and ingredients to be fresh, and 78% consider those dishes to be a treat.

Dive Insight:

Pinterest, which considers itself to be “the world's largest focus group,” reported last December that Christmas and Hanukkah recipe ideas – well over 3 million of them – start emerging on their platform in July and August.

Many of the ideas, pinned to virtual bulletin boards, revolve around seasonal spices.

When many U.S. consumers think about fall food, they think about pumpkin spice flavors. Products featuring the warm spicy blend generally hit grocery store shelves in August, and retain dominance until November. According to Nielsen, pumpkin-flavored products are a business worth $361 million a year. And the ubiquitous spice blend — cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice — is everywhere.

Eggnog, which many drink during the Christmas season, is also coming into vogue as perhaps the next seasonal mega-flavor. Easter is sweetened by sugary marshmallow Peeps, and it isn't July 4 without watermelon slices.

Some of these treats have been able to successfully extend their appeal, while others have not. In 2014, Peeps manufacturer Just Born added new flavors to its signature Easter chicks. The company has not shared sales data, but in 2015, its Vice President for Corporate Affairs Matt Pye told Fortune, "The brand has almost doubled in size over the last 10 years and it is more likely due to the engaged fans who continue to express their “Peepsonality” in many ways through their many uses of Peeps.”

Pumpkin spice, on the other hand, might just stay in the fall. John Oliver of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" quipped that while the ingredients for Starbucks' popular Pumpkin Spice Lattes are “available behind the counter at Starbucks year round”, “no one wants anything to do with it from December through August.” The flavors complement warm fall foods, but may not be as good on springtime lamb shanks or summer barbecue. 

And there's the question of seasonality. While global trade makes it possible to get fresh watermelon in grocery stores year-round, sales always drop with temperatures. According to Nielsen data, total year-round sales of melons are increasing — up 0.6% in 2015 from the year prior — but it isn't likely that consumers will be as interested in the sweet fruit in November as they are in July.

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Filed Under: Manufacturing Ingredients
Top image credit: Jamal Fanaian