Friday, October 19, 2012

Is Pumpkin the New Bacon?

During the past month, consumer media have posed the question: Is pumpkin the next bacon?

Here are two worthwhile reads: CNBC on September 21 and New York Magazine on October 14.

While pumpkin is showing up this autumn on menus across the country—from McDonald’s milkshakes to Cracker Barrel’s custard  to Starbucks’ latte—many agree that it is a seasonal flavor, but one that is increasingly being embraced by consumers because of pumpkin’s healthfulness.

Did you know?
  • Pumpkins owe their bright orange color to their high carotenoid content. These antioxidants assist in staving off free radicals in the body, which helps fight off various diseases and slows signs of aging.
  • They are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin. These are the same nutrients found in egg yolks and are associated with protecting the eyes against free radical damage and preventing formation of cataracts and degeneration of the eye tissues.
  • Pumpkins are loaded with vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
  • And finally, pumpkin flesh is a concentrated source of soluble fiber, making it very low in calories.  (Though it usually only tastes good when it’s combined with sweeteners and other caloric, flavorful ingredients.)
Many dairy processors recognize the value of formulating with pumpkin, especially at this time of year. For example, Kraft’s Limited-Edition Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese recently returned to grocer’s refrigerators for its third season.

And this month, private-label retailer Aldi dedicated an entire refrigerated section and dried goods shelf to fall seasonal products, most of which were pumpkin flavored. Under the company’s Fit & Active brand, the pumpkin pie nonfat yogurt is to die for. A 6-ounce cup contains 90 calories and sells at Aldi for 39 cents! (I made an oat-based granola with dried cranberries and pecan pieces and used it to make pumpkin pie yogurt parfaits as a healthful dessert for some moms at a recent school committee meeting. They loved it!)

In the refrigerator, Aldi offers quarts of indulgent Friendly Farms Pumpkin Spice Milk, while in the freezer there are 1.5-quarts of Belmont Premium Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream. The ambient aisle has 9.5-fluid-ounce glass bottles of Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee. Aldi has its own pumpkin-flavored cream cheese, too. (Photos below.)
And though not pumpkin, Aldi’s new Apple Harvest Cheddar Cheese is definitely a winner that they better bring back next year. (Photo below.)
Back on the foodservice side, TCBY is encouraging Americans to indulge guilt-free with three new frozen yogurt flavors: Pumpkin Spice, Apple Spice and Eggnog Super Fro-Yo.  A single serving delivers a minimum of 3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, seven types of live active probiotic cultures, and 20% of the Daily Value for vitamin D and calcium. At a 120 calories or less per serving, as well as 1 gram or less of saturated fat and a minimum of 20 billion live active probiotics, it’s easy for consumers to get into the spirit of the season.

So, is pumpkin the next bacon? No…not if you are in the dairy business, as bacon has only had a limited presence in dairy (a few dips, some cheeses and an artisan ice cream or two). Pumpkin is bigger than bacon in dairy. So if you are not marketing a pumpkin flavor this autumn, consider it for next year.

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