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Pumpkin season is officially here.
Love it or hate it, there's no escaping pumpkin fever. Countless companies have seized upon the popularity of Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte and adopted the flavor for their own products.
Despite the explosion in pumpkin products, the hype might be slowing. Nielsen is projecting 6 percent growth for the last year, down from 10 percent the year before and 20 percent in 2013.
"It's entirely possible that we've hit peak pumpkin," said Jordan Rost, Nielsen's vice president of consumer insights. "We still see new categories growing every year to things like cream cheese. There's an almost endless assortment of products."
Dollar sales reached a record high of $414 million last year, though unit sales actually fell, Rost said. Food companies and retailers have been able to charge a premium, he said, which has helped sustain growth.
Sales have also benefited from a broader range of categories and a longer pumpkin season, Rost said. Some of the most popular pumpkin-flavored product categories include baked bread, baking mix, cereal, yogurt, cream, coffee — even dog food.
Some up-and-coming categories include butter, salad dressing, liquor and cat food.
"There's definitely no indication the trend is in decline, it's just a question of how do you grow what's amounting to be a serious business," Rost said.
General Mills is selling more than a dozen pumpkin products, including yogurts, granola bars, baking mixes, and even pumpkin spice Cheerios.
"Overall at General Mills, our pumpkin flavored products are still performing well and popular with consumers," a spokesman said in an email. "Based on consumer feedback, we know that pumpkin is still a favorite flavor come Fall."
Unsurprisingly, pie filling is one of the top-selling pumpkin products. Nestle's brand Libby's is the largest producer of canned pumpkin in the U.S. A spokeswoman said 80 percent of pumpkin sales occur within the season, which starts in September and runs through the end of the year.
One trend Nestle has noticed is more customers are buying the organic version of Libby's canned pumpkin.
The shift toward natural and fresh foods is bringing more customers away from pumpkin-flavored products and toward the real thing. Fresh pumpkin dollar sales reached $121 million last year, a 5 percent increase from the year before.
Rost will be watching to see whether that trend continues this year. He will also be watching how long companies and grocers can extend the pumpkin season. That and other trends, of course, depend on customers.