Donna Berry

CHICAGO — Watch out pumpkin! This year, food and beverage marketers are exploring other autumn-centric flavors for their limited-edition, seasonal offerings. In fact, during a cable television interview in September, Martha Stewart proclaimed that pumpkin flavor has seen its day.

That may be an extreme proclamation, because by no means has pumpkin flavor gone away. A walk through the supermarket shows that this autumn’s offerings have pumpkin featured in an even greater array of products than years past. New entries include cereal, cheese and popcorn.


Pumpkin is not going away, but it’s getting some competition. Consumers continue to crave pumpkin once the leaves begin to fall. In fact, many Starbucks aficionados anxiously await the day they can place their order for a pumpkin spice latte. But this year Starbucks has a second fall flavor offering — maple pecan latte — which is a blend of espresso and steamed milk combined with notes of maple syrup and pecan, and finished with a colorful autumn topping.

Pumpkin always will be the true autumn flavor, but other flavors gaining traction in seasonal products include apple, cranberry and most notably maple. These are flavors enjoyed throughout the year; however, because their harvest is associated with autumn, it makes sense to promote them during this time of year.

The Farmer’s Cow, Lebanon, Conn., offers maple milk. The limited-edition release comes in a collectible quart glass bottle designed to stand out in the dairy case. Each 32-oz bottle contains approximately one-quarter cup of Vermont maple syrup blended with whole milk.

Starbucks Maple Pecan Latte, Autumn flavors
Starbucks’ new maple pecan latte joins pumpkin spice latte as limited-time offerings this autumn season.

Nuts also have an autumn harvest association, which is why they appear in many seasonal foods. An interesting nut emerging as a niche flavor is the acorn. Produced by oak trees, acorns long have been gathered and enjoyed by squirrels, while most humans consider them a nuisance.

Acorns — with the caps and shells removed — are high in protein, potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6. They are naturally gluten-free and loaded with fiber. There are more than 400 species of oak trees grown around the world, and the acorns they produce vary in color, flavor and size. They naturally contain tannic acid, a water-soluble bitter substance that leaches out during processing, allowing the natural sweetness to come forward. They are most notably pulverized into flour and used in baked goods.

Acorn flour, however, is still very much a specialty ingredient, but it is gaining traction at the local level.

Maple milk, Autumn flavors
Farmer’s Cow Maple Milk is whole milk blended with real Vermont maple syrup.

Sue Chin, owner of Sue´s Acorn Cafe & Mill, Martinez, Calif., for example, collects local acorns to produce her own flour. She uses it to create an array of baked goods served at her restaurant and sold on-line. Offerings include biscotti, bread, cakes and muffins. She also sells the acorn flour for home baking. 

On Kea Island in Greece, Marcie Mayer, a California native, heads up the Oakmeal Acorn Initiative, which is a multifaceted project to help farmers rekindle the collection of acorn caps for exportation to tanneries, as well as establishing acorn flour-based products in the local cuisine. Ms. Mayer currently produces and markets a line of acorn cookies and acorn pasta.

“Acorn flour behaves very differently than wheat flour,” she said. “It has a darker color and much richer aroma. It is typically blended with wheat flour.”

Acorn cookies, Autumn flavors
Acorns are an underappreciated nut. Long considered a nuisance by humans, specialty food marketers are embracing flour made from acorns for its unique nutritional and sensory properties.

Mondelez International Inc., East Hanover, N.J., apparently heeded Ms. Stewart’s insight on pumpkin. This year’s limited-edition fall Triscuit flavor is nutmeg and cinnamon. In previous year’s, the shredded whole wheat cracker came in cranberry and sage flavor, as well as pumpkin spice.

When it comes to seasonal foods, sometimes packaging is the only difference. Advancements in printing technologies have made it easier for food companies to offer holiday-themed, limited-edition products. Many times there is nothing different about the product. With some staple products, such holiday-inspired packaging creates a purchasing occasion that might not have otherwise existed.

There is no doubt that limited-edition products create a sense of urgency to purchase the themed product, since there’s a chance the store will run out. Waiting for it to go on sale is not an option.

The emotions that seasonal celebrations stir often will drive a consumer to purchase a product. Emotion is a key factor that makes people buy a product, with many consumers being less price sensitive during holidays. The challenge is that once the season or holiday is gone, the product loses its appeal. Pumpkin Oreos are not welcome on Valentine’s Day.