CHICAGO — Sometimes the way to a consumer’s stomach is through the heart. That seems to be a strategy of packaged foods companies, which lately have launched a spate of seasonal products with flavors that evoke nostalgia and comfort.
For those with a fondness for crunching on caramel apples each autumn, there are now bread, yogurt, confections, snack chips, popcorn and cookies formulated to taste like the tart, sweet treat.
Candy corn, the iconic tri-color staple of Halloween, also inspires a number of unexpected items, including bagged coffee, ready-to-eat cereal and cake frosting.
And pumpkin, the undisputed king of the season, may now be found in peanut butter, frozen waffles, baking mixes, marshmallows and gum.
“My sense, in looking at product introductions over time, is that the incidence of flavors that are seasonal, tied to a specific time of year, is growing,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Chicago-based Mintel. “There are a couple reasons for this. One reason is a single flavor: pumpkin. It is amazing to me how many pumpkin and pumpkin spice products have come onto the market in just the last few weeks. It started earlier this year than ever before, with Starbucks starting to sell its pumpkin spice latte in September rather than in mid-October, and it feels like everyone else is following suit.
“But beyond that one flavor, we do see more companies embracing the short-run flavor that ties in with a specific season.”
For example, Hostess Brands introduced limited-edition Twinkies with strawberry crème during the summer, when the fruit was at its peak.
“You can understand the reasoning for this: the product evokes one of the flavors so common during the summer,” Ms. Dornblaser said.
Whether it’s peppermint in December or pink lemonade in the spring, limited-edition items add novelty and excitement to supermarket shelves.
“They keep consumers focused on the brands,” Ms. Dornblaser said, adding that autumn is when most seasonal items are introduced, driven by back-to-school, Halloween and Thanksgiving.
More and more, major players continue to innovate with festive flavors. This year, the Hershey Co. leveraged consumer insights in launching its fall products. The company found in a survey of 1,014 adults the top flavors associated with autumn are pumpkin spice (according to 34% of Americans), followed by candy corn (24%) and caramel apple (15%). New products this year include Hershey’s Candy Corn Snack Size Bars, featuring white chocolate flecked with candy bits, and Caramel Apple Twizzlers, which are green apple twists filled with gooey caramel.
Returning to shelves this season from Mars, Inc., are Milky Way Caramel Apple candy bars and M&M’s White Chocolate Candy Corn candies. Also landing in the candy aisle this season are limited-edition Wonka Laffy Taffy Caramel Apple candies from Nestle USA.
From General Mills comes several new baking products with seasonal availability, including Betty Crocker limited-edition candy corn frosting and candy corn cookie mix with orange and yellow dough. Under the Pillsbury brand, the company introduced caramel apple cake mix, cake frosting, and cookie mix with tart and sweet candy bits.
Caramel Apple and Pumpkin Spice are the latest in a line of limited-edition varieties of Nabisco Oreo cookies from Mondelēz International. The caramel apple variant contains half caramel, half green apple creme sandwiched between two golden wafers.
Seasonal snacks debuting this year include Pirate’s Booty Caramel Apple baked rice and corn puffs from B&G Foods, Werther’s Original Spiced Caramel Apple popcorn from Storck, and Angie’s Holidrizzle Candy Corn Kettle Corn from Angie’s Popcorn. Additionally, Dannon has added a caramel apple pie variety of Light ‘n Fit Greek yogurt, with 80 calories and 12 grams of protein.
The caramel apple variety of Pepperidge Farm Swirl Bread bakes cinnamon and sweet caramel flavors and tangy apple bits into thick slices. The company, a business unit of Campbell Soup Co., also offers limited-edition caramel apple pie soft-baked cookies.
The trend extends to breakfast offerings, too. From PepsiCo, Quaker Real Medleys caramel apple oatmeal features apple slices, roasted pecans and caramel flavor in single-serve cups. Post Foods recently rolled out a limited-edition candy corn variety of Pebbles cereal, featuring yellow, orange and white flakes inspired by the classic confection.
In the freezer aisle, Talenti Gelato e Sorbetto has introduced caramel apple pie gelato, with pieces of apples and flaky pie crust blended into cinnamon gelato, and So Delicious Dairy Free this year debuted candy corn frozen dessert bars made with coconut milk.And for those who prefer to sip their favorite fall flavors, Target’s Archer Farms brand offers bagged light roast ground coffee in candy corn and caramel apple varieties, and Keurig Green Mountain has added limited-time caramel apple cider packaged in single-serve portion pods. In cold beverages, Jones Soda Co. expanded its carbonated soft drink cans with limited-edition caramel apple.