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From the Bushel to the Bottle
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From the Bushel to the Bottle

It’s not quite fall yet, but brands and retailers are already touting one of the most popular flavors of the year—pumpkin. But while there’s no mistaking the sales effect of this seasonal squash, it’s no longer the lone fruit in town come autumn. And just like the pumpkin-spiced latte created a major coffee craze, a wave of flavor innovators are unleashing an array of fruit inspirations they hope will have a similar effect at cocktail hour.

So which tastes are piquing our palates?

Pumpkin Patches and Apple Orchards

As we’ve seen in recent years, pumpkin isn’t just for java. And flavored beverage makers are hoping this fall fruit isn’t just a year-end craze. Last year, sales of pumpkin-flavored beer offerings topped $22 million, up 2.6% from 2012. Not surprisingly, about 86% of those dollars sales fell between mid-July and late October.

While the pumpkin wave has ebbed a bit since 2012, when dollar sales spiked 28% from 2011, the orange gourd still packs a powerful punch on retailer shelves. And there is still room for new entrants: 13 fresh pumpkin brands came to market in 2013, accounting for 1.4% dollar growth and 13% category growth.

The bar is also big enough for more than just pumpkin, and when it comes to year-round appeal, there’s no bigger influence right now than apples. While a pint of apple shandy a day won’t necessarily keep the doctor away, it will keep liquor retailers smiling. Apple is so popular that it now brings in nearly $141 million in beer and alcohol sales—that’s 49 times what we saw in 2012. What sparked this spike? Five new apple brands hit the beer aisle, flanked by widespread marketing efforts to raise awareness and quench thirsts for crisp refreshment. These new brands accounted for 98% of dollar growth last year and 99% of category growth.

Year-Round Flavor Appeal

Not constrained to the fall season, apple beers appeal to consumers year round. While sales tend to spike during the summer months, the category maintains healthy numbers throughout the rest of the year. This gives retailers ample reason to keep their orchards well stocked year-round.

But apples aren’t just for beer. They’re also vital in cider, a completely different category that’s rapidly branching out. Twenty-four new cider brands came to market last year that were responsible for 5% of the dollar growth and 8% of the category growth. Cider sales this summer (July 1–Aug. 17) were up 79% from the same time last year, accounting for $43 million in sales. And with a well-executed strategy, the potential in this category appears significant. For example, the top brand in the category has grown more than four times since 2012, and two new brands came to market in 2014, helping this trend stay crisp and sweet.

The cranberry is another trending fruit that’s made the jump from the produce aisle to the bar in recent years. Now accounting for more than $83 million in beer and flavored alcoholic drinks, the cranberry has come a long ways since being confined to Thanksgiving dinner. While sales were down 6% in 2013, the tart berry has nearly four times the influence on the flavored alcohol segment as pumpkin. Two new cranberry brands came to market last year, which accounted for 17% of dollar growth and 99% of segment growth. So before you write off the cranberry as a souring trend, it’s worth pointing out that the flavor racked up a 34% increase in sales between July and Aug. 17 this year. So what’s behind the uptick? One of last year’s new entrants was a limited seasonal offering, and it’s already back in full swing to re-conquer the flavor scene.

So even though consumer tastes ebb and flow with the seasons, there’s clearly something to be said for fall-tinged flavors that defy calendar dates. Among the autumn-esque flavors that have cropped up at the liquor store, pumpkin is the only one with an “enjoy-by” date, key insight for retailers looking to add a little fruit variety to their food and beverage shelves all year round.

Flavor Trends in Beer and Cider

Flavor $ Sales (MM) % Change YOY
Cider $223 103%
Apple $141 4,765%
Cranberry $83 -6.0%
Pumpkin $22 2.6%

Flavor Trends in All Food and Beverage

Flavor $ Sales (MM) % Change YOY
Cranberry $1,266 4.9%
Apple $433 6.0%
Pumpkin $308 13.5%
Source: Nielsen