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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.
Of course, pumpkin spice isn't the only flavor slated to take over stores this fall. Consumers can expect to see butter pecan, hot cocoa, smoke-flavoring and salt appear in many products, according to Ken Harris, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group.
"You are going to see salt added to a lot of things," he said. "The logical one is caramel, of course, but it can be things like cinnamon and coconut — so you've got a sweet-savory thing going on."
Harris also noted the consumers will see traditionally sweet products getting a dash of heat. As the weather changes, customers transition to spicer foods, he said. Products with flavors like spicy sweet chili, chipotle pineapple and sriracha mango can be expected to pop up more in the coming months.
Limited-edition and seasonal products are not new to the market. Companies have been introducing snack-food items through line extensions for years.
The goal of this type of distribution is not only to test new flavors, but to entice consumers to make more impulsive purchases. Limited-edition runs introduce a sense of urgency because of the lack of permanence as part of the brand's main collection.
Case and point, Oreo crafts a new, innovative cookie flavor every few months, drumming up quite a bit of excitement, and sometimes head turns, with consumers. Just this week, Nabisco launched a Swedish Fish-flavored Oreo.