SAN FRANCISCO — Has pumpkin peaked? It may be a question on many product developers’ minds, but analytics expert Anil Kaul, Ph.D., said consumers aren’t yet bored with the gourd.
Dr. Kaul is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Absolutdata, a market intelligence firm that tracks the rise and fall of popular flavors to help companies determine whether to participate in a particular trend. Marshmallow, tabasco and passion fruit are on his list of flavors that recently have fallen out of favor.
“(These flavors) have been very popular at some point but lost their popularity over time and have been retired for many products,” Dr. Kaul said.
But what about pumpkin spice? Each year, the autumnal favorite crops up in more and more limited-edition packaged foods and menu items. New launches this season include belVita pumpkin spice breakfast biscuits from Mondelez International, pumpkin-flavored Twinkies from Hostess Brands, and a pumpkin spice variety of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats cereal.
Said Dr. Kaul, “I do think this flavor in particular has a little bit of time left.”
Here’s why. The flavor’s limited availability extends its lifespan, Dr. Kaul said.
|Anil Kaul, Ph.D., chief executive officer and co-founder of Absolutdata|
“If a flavor is available year-round, people get tired of it (faster),” he said. “I think the positive thing about pumpkin spice is that this is a flavor that is associated with fall and every year people look forward to it. In a way it becomes a ritual for a lot of people.”
New and interesting innovations featuring the flavor are fueling the trend, he added.
“As the flavor starts getting incorporated into new products, that itself gives it some energy,” he said.
Companies that incorporate trendy flavors into product innovation need to consider two things, he said. First, is the flavor appropriate for the brand or category?
“Is the concept of your product and the particular flavor acceptable to consumers?” Dr. Kaul said. “If you’re Taco Bell, for example, please do not introduce a taco with pumpkin spice in it.”
Second, a company must be agile in bringing new products to the marketplace.
“The important thing about these flavors is they come in quickly and fade out quickly,” Dr. Kaul said. “One of the challenges of the food industry is it typically has a relatively longer innovation cycle from product idea to the shelf. Sometimes it can take multiple years before you see that product on the shelf. Companies that can move products from idea to shelf very fast are the ones that can be successful (with a flavor trend).”
Companies may determine the staying power of a trend by looking at sales data and social media. Flavor trends tend to start flat, quickly gain traction and plateau, creating an S curve, Dr. Kaul said. Flattening sales of related products signals a trend is losing steam. In the example of pumpkin spice, Dr. Kaul said sales still are rising as new products come to market.
Conversations on social media platforms are often early indicators of the next big thing. Based on observations, Dr. Kaul expects consumer interest in health and global cuisines will drive future flavor trends.
“There’s this whole trend around natural foods coming in, which we believe will translate to natural flavors becoming more popular because they are considered healthier,” Dr. Kaul said, citing Starbucks’ reformulation of its pumpkin spice latte to include real pumpkin.
The rise of such exotic flavors as sriracha and kimchi in packaged foods supports the idea global cuisine will continue to influence product development, he said.“I never thought people would be talking about kimchi flavor,” Dr. Kaul said. “I don’t know if kimchi will be the next big flavor, but I think certainly flavors coming from ethnic foods will be a big trend.”