New products featuring pumpkin spice this year have come in the forms of coffee, donuts, bars and Twinkies. Pumpkin spice-flavored Spam, when made available on the internet, sold out in less than seven hours.
“There’s pumpkin spice everything it seems these days,” says David Banks, marketing director for Bell Flavors & Fragrances.
Starbucks’ successful promotion of pumpkin spice lattes began several years ago. Pumpkin spice grew 16% as a food or beverage flavor on U.S. menus from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2018, according to Mintel Menu Insights.
“Pumpkin spice, it’s just a great flavor,” Banks says. “It hit at the right time. It’s in the fall. People are thinking pumpkin. It’s an excellent flavor. It’s sweet, but yet it’s kind of earthy, and it’s got a good profile to it. It’s got the right amount of spice, not too much.”
If companies have yet to join the pumpkin spice trend, they may have missed out already, says Deb Gabor, chief executive officer of Sol Marketing.
“I’m not an expert on flavor, and I’m not an expert on food and beverage,” she says. “What I am an expert at is on branding and marketing, and my big observation is that pumpkin spice is this really interesting, sort of fun flavor that Starbucks brought out.”
Pumpkin spice this year has become a baseline requirement rather than a way to differentiate a product, she says.
Banks says he also wonders how long the torrid pace of new product introductions with pumpkin spice will continue.
“It’s got a couple more years,” he says. “It’s not like it’s going to be gone, everything off the shelf tomorrow. Pumpkin spice lattes are going to continue to be around, and they are going to drive that seasonality in an L.T.O. (limited-time offering) perspective, but we’ve got pumpkin spice everything now, and I think that will slow down a little bit with new product introductions.”
Other seasonal flavors
Other flavors may enliven new product launches in the fall and the holiday season. Warm spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice are more popular in the fall as are root vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets, Banks says. Apples are easy to cook with and provide a good base along with flavor and texture, he added. Honeycrisp is a promising apple variety.
“They have a bite like a Granny Smith, but they don’t have the tartness like a Granny Smith,” Banks says of Honeycrisps.
Fall occasions like back to school, tailgating and Pink October, which seeks to increase breast cancer awareness, may drive new flavor trends, said Dylan Thompson, marketing and consumer insight manager for Symrise’s Flavors Division in North America and based in Teterboro, New Jersey.
“For back to school, think about things inspired by school snacks and lunch,” he says, giving examples of new takes on peanut butter and jelly, apples and healthy treats.
Pink teas (strawberry, hibiscus and rose) could be linked to Pink October as could Pink Lady apples, pink fudge and ruby chocolate.
“For the classic autumn flavors and spices, we think turmeric will continue to be important, connected to natural, holistic health space, most likely paired with other flavors like chai ginger, coconut and lemon,” Thompson says.
Heading into the holidays, Dawn Foods foresees pumpkin flavors flourishing as well as carrot, eggnog and red velvet flavors, says Sam Jones in North American category ingredient marketing for Dawn.
He says bakeries could hand out free samples of eggnog-flavored donuts. People enter a bakery looking for a certain number of donuts, like a dozen, and a certain flavor. Seeing a new flavor could lead to additional sales, which Jones calls an “and one.”
Sea salt could be a welcome flavor in holiday dishes, says Mark Zoske, founder and CEO of SaltWorks, Inc.
“Sea salt brings out the natural flavor in food and beverages,” he says. “Whether cooking with it or using it to finish a dish, sea salt is a simple ingredient that can have a big impact on flavor, texture and even visual appeal. Natural salt crystals can be moist or dry, delicate or dense powdery or crunchy — and everything in between.”
Holidays often mean rich, comforting dishes or sweet, indulgent desserts, he says.
“Think about using sea salt in holiday-inspired recipes, like a creamy salted caramel drizzle over apple pie, roasted butternut squash with Ancient Ocean Himalayan pink flake salt, or beef tenderloin encrusted in Fusion espresso brava salt and our Indobold Lampung black pepper.”
Pairing with pumpkin
Many fall and holiday flavors could pair up with pumpkin spice.
“All things seem to point to the heavy use of pumpkin spice with the regular group of peppermint and cocoa,” says Dax Schaefer, head chef of Asenzya. “One direction I could see happening is a slight twist on these seasonal classics. For example: pumpkin spice cheesecake latte, a cinnamon snickerdoodle Oreo or peppermint twist snack. The addition of an ‘and’ to these tried-and-true classics is a safe presentation, and people want safe and the warm and fuzzy feelings of the holidays.”
Banks says pumpkin spice goes well with brown sugar, turbinado sugar and vanilla. Dawn Foods, in its examples of autumn bakery creations, lists pumpkin spice cake donuts, pumpkin cheesecake bismarks and pumpkin patch cupcakes.
Chocolate and caramel are two other mainstream flavors that may be combined with pumpkin spice in desserts, snacks and beverages, Thompson says.
“Pumpkin spice definitely isn’t going away and continues to reach new categories every fall, but there are some other mainstream flavors primed for growth like maple cinnamon as well as florals and herbs which continue to trend,” he says.
Zoske says, “Sea salt can create a beautiful balance with the warm, deep flavor of pumpkin spice itself or can help cut some of the sweetness of many popular, sugar-added pumpkin spice products, such as in baked goods and desserts where we see this flavor becoming more popular each year. It’s a delicious seasonal pairing that can be used across categories, from beverages and snacks to frozen desserts and condiments.”
Its association with fall and the holidays bodes well for the prospects of pumpkin spice.
“I think it’s a mainstay, and it’s going to stick around for years to come,” Gabor says.