Pumpkins Aplenty?

U.S. farmers produced 1.3 billion-lbs. of pumpkins in the top six states last year, a 17-percent hike compared to the same period in 2013, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retail prices for all pumpkin varieties were up for September and October, versus the average of last year's full season. And demand for specialty pumpkins continued to expand as consumers look for new and interesting variations. 

Pumpkin production is widely dispersed, with crop conditions varying greatly by region. Illinois is still the leading pumpkin producer, with most supplies processed into pie filling and other applications. Supplies from the remaining top five states are targeted toward the seasonal fresh market for ornamental uses and home processing.

But there are pumpkins and there is pumpkin pie spice flavor.And despite all of the pumpkin spice aromas everywhere, in all kinds of food, nonfood and seasonal items, sales of actual pumpkins are rolling downhill.

A recent report from Nielsen shows data indicating the pumpkin flavor trend is nowhere near stopping, and that the pumpkin pie spice flavor means autumn to many people. In fact, 37 percent of consumers bought a pumpkin-flavored product in 2014, accounting for $361 million in sales just in 2014, which is a 79 percent boost from 2011, Nielsen notes. No doubt, sales so far are up this year for such flavored items.

The hottest sellers on the pumpkin market include pie filling ($134,786,923 in sales last year), pumpkin cream ($47,907,993) and pumpkin coffee ($32,655,566). No news there. Pumpkin pie spice is infusing everything right now from beer to bath water (as in Pumpkin Spice bath gel).

But fresh pumpkins are being left out in the cold. Sales of the bright orange real thing have been dropping every year since 2011, Nielsen reports, which means roughly 8.6 million fewer pumpkins are sold. This flies in the face of the jack-o-lantern, as it would seem that with all the iterations of pumpkin coffees, cookies, donuts, pumpkin pie spice soap and room deodorizer, actual pumpkin sales would be doing pretty well, but in fact they're not.

While half of U.S. consumers are actively trying to lose weight, they’re overlooking fresh pumpkin to satisfy their cravings, and instead eating baked goods, chips, dip and especially sweets this month, with Halloween coming up. This is where sales have steadily increased, according to Nielsen.

The regular boost in demand for pumpkin-flavored products will continue, and such items will probably continue to appear on store shelves through the season and into the holidays. I did my part; I bought my usual 10-lb. pumpkin for carving and a smattering of Jack Be Littles to decorate with. I suggest we all carve the real thing this Halloween.