KANSAS CITY — Caramel apple is certainly nothing new — and that’s precisely the point. The indulgent, autumnal flavor, lately seen in a crop of new limited-edition product launches, evokes memories of crisp nights, hayrides and Halloween. The tart, sweet treat has inspired recent innovation from the Kellogg Co., the Hershey Co., Hostess Brands and more.

“Snack and candy companies have clearly identified ‘limited time offer’ and seasonal offerings as a way to combat some of the headwinds facing their categories, and autumn has especially been targeted as a key selling window,” Alan Owen, marketing director, sweet flavors, at Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., told Food Business News. “Much like pumpkin spice, caramel apple is very versatile in applications ranging from ice cream to snack cakes.”


But unlike pumpkin spice, which some may consider a polarizing flavor, caramel apple carries broader appeal across age groups, Mr. Owen said.

“Plus, many retailers merchandise caramel apples in their produce sections beginning in late summer, promoting top-of-mind awareness,” he added.

The flavor combination lends itself to “infinite” applications, Mr. Owen said, citing sweet baked foods, frozen dairy, yogurt, dips and even beverages as examples.

New candy launches include Hershey’s caramel apple filled milk chocolates from the Hershey Co., and caramel apple flavored Mike and Ike candies and Peeps marshmallow chicks from Just Born, Inc. Returning to shelves this season are Milky Way caramel apple filled chocolates, Mars Chocolate North America and Caramel Apple Twizzlers from Hershey.

Among new snack cakes capturing the fall favorite are Little Debbie Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cream Pies from McKee Foods, Tastykake Caramel Apple Mini Donuts from Flowers Foods, and Hostess Caramel Apple CupCakes. Several yogurt brands offer a caramel apple variant, too, including Chobani, Yoplait and Dannon.

And, as part of a spate of autumn offerings, Kellogg is debuting Pop-Tarts Frosted Caramel Apple toaster pastries, which feature a flaky crust with an apple and caramel flavored filling and sweet frosting.

To stand out in a sea of caramel apple innovation, product manufacturers may contemporize the flavor, Mr. Owen said.

“The most obvious is to make a sea salt caramel apple, as the salt enhances both the fruit and the confection,” he said. “Creating a spiced caramel with rosemary or, say, ginger, can yield very premium and unique results as well.”

Despite heightened attention to caramel apple, pumpkin spice certainly hasn’t fallen out of fashion. New introductions this year include Pumpkin Spice Cheerios from General Mills, Nutri-Grain Pumpkin Spice bars from Kellogg and Triscuit Pumpkin Spice crackers from Mondelez International.

But with all the new caramel apple innovation hitting shelves this season, one may wonder whether the flavor is poised to eclipse pumpkin spice as fall’s hottest food trend.

“I think in some ways it already has,” Mr. Owen said. “It just doesn’t have the buzz around it like pumpkin spice because it’s been around for some time.”

Click for a slideshow of caramel apple flavored products.