Why U.S. Pumpkin Sales Plummet, Even as Our Taste for Pumpkin Peaks

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As fall nears, this country’s pumpkin-palooza is in full swing.

Pumpkin-flavored items — including pancakes, coffee creamer, beer, ice cream, cookies, marshmallows and even toothpaste — inundate store shelves and restaurant menus this time of year, so this may come as a surprise: Actual pumpkin sales have plummeted in recent years.

Pumpkin is the flavor of fall. Nearly 37 percent of American consumers purchased a pumpkin-flavored item last year, according to a recent Nielsen report. The $361 million in pumpkin-flavored product sales in 2014 represents a 79 percent increase since 2011.

Amid the pumpkin-flavored product frenzy, however, sales of actual fresh pumpkins have taken a nosedive. Nielsen found that pumpkin sales losses in 2011, 2013 and 2014 accounted for 8.6 million fewer pumpkins sold.

“While 50 percent of U.S. consumers are actively trying to lose weight, they’re overlooking fresh pumpkin to satisfy their craving, instead opting for indulgent treats like baked goods, dips and sweets, where sales have steadily increased,”the Nielsen report states.

The 10 most popular pumpkin products are:

  • Pumpkin pie filling: $134.8 million in sales in 2014.
  • Pumpkin cream: $47.9 million.
  • Pumpkin coffee: $32.7 million.
  • Baking mixes: $25.7 million.
  • Baked bread: $24.2 million.
  • Dog food: $12.9 million.
  • Yogurt: $11.4 million.
  • Ice cream: $9.8 million.
  • Fresh desserts: $6.4 million.
  • Pumpkin milk: $5.4 million.

America’s love for all things pumpkin is unique. The United States is the only country that consumes pumpkin as a seasonal food and beverage, according to the Associated Press.

Cindy Ott, a scholar and author of “Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon,” recently told the AP that Americans associate pumpkin with prosperity, home and family.

“It represents a sense of goodness, natural abundance and old values that people think are good,” Ott explained.

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