It's that time of year, again folks. Months ahead of fall, supermarket shelves are being stocked with autumn flavors like cinnamon, apple and, you guessed it, pumpkin spice.
Starbucks, which spearheaded the pumpkin spice flavor craze back in 2003, isn't the only company toting a pumpkin-flavored product these days. Lindt, Kellogg and General Mills, among many others, have all introduced pumpkin to their roster; offering flavored chocolate truffles, cereals, and nutrigrain bars.
"A key reason pumpkin remains popular year over year, is the fact that it remains a truly seasonal ingredient," Diana Kelter, a foodservice analyst at Mintel, told CNBC. "Other classic fall ingredients, such as sweet potatoes and apples, have become common staples throughout the year, but pumpkin is consistently reserved for the fall which keeps the demand for it high."
Even McDonald's has amped up its version of a pumpkin spice latte, now offering the seasonal beverage in all 14,000 chains nationwide beginning Aug. 31. Last year, the burger joint only sold the beverage in select, regional locations.
The abundance of pumpkin-flavored products may lead some consumers to ask: Have we hit peak pumpkin?
Not so fast, says Kelter.
"While we have not hit peak pumpkin, the trend is continuing to evolve," she told CNBC, "The overwhelming amount of pumpkin spice products over the past few years has led consumers to feel over saturated by pumpkin products. However, rather than removing pumpkin spice from the fall line up, retail brands and foodservice outlets are starting to rethink how they leverage pumpkin and market it to consumers."
Kelter noted that consumers have become more aware that some pumpkin spice products don't actually contain pumpkin. While some do, others could be flavored by a synthetic chemical or a combination of spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.
"Pumpkin as a flavor can still feature real pumpkin, such as Cheerio's new Pumpkin Spice flavor containing pumpkin puree, but the usage of pumpkin is less about eating in its true form (pumpkin-filled ravioli) and more about leveraging the flavor (Pumpkin Spice Latte)," Kelter said.