Nothing says Halloween quite like pumpkin and restaurants are cashing in on consumer’s love for all things gourd-related. According to data culled by Mintel Menu Insights (MMI)*, the menu incidence (menu mentions) of pumpkin as an ingredient flavor on the food menu across total commercial foodservice grew 32% between Q4 2010-13.

MMI picked-up 187 unique menu item dishes menuing pumpkin flavored ingredient(s) in Q4 2010 with that number jumping to 247 menu item dishes in Q4 2013.The popularity of pumpkin flavor is evident with menu incidence growing on average 10% per year between 2010-13.

Among the most popular menu item dishes featuring pumpkin flavored ingredients include salads, yet the incidence remained relatively flat over the last few years with growth being sourced to a few other dish categories including;

  • Soups and stews featuring pumpkin flavored ingredients drove 20% of the growth, more than fair share considering these items only account from 11% of all menu item dishes with pumpkin flavored ingredients on the menu.
  • Burgers accounted for 14% of the growth (in this case it’s mostly burgers being offered with side dishes that feature pumpkin flavoring such as salads, soups, and optional spreads).

At the segment level, all major industry segments helped to drive the increase of pumpkin flavored ingredients across commercial foodservice menus.

  • The biggest increases were found among limited service restaurants (LSR) which only menu 8% of all dishes with pumpkin flavored ingredients yet drove a fifth (20%) of the growth between Q4 2010-13.
  • Full service restaurants also menued more dishes with pumpkin flavored ingredients, with casual dining posting 37% growth and fine dining 9% for the same period.

There is significant opportunity for LSR establishments to menu more items with pumpkin flavored ingredients beyond the current focus on beverages; primarily driven by the QSR coffee category of restaurants.

With that said, while we hear a good deal about pumpkin flavored beverages, and assume a good amount of the growth is coming from desserts, the biggest drivers of growth are a bit more surprising – almost half (48%) of the growth was sourced to entrees. Sandwiches also drove more than their fair share of growth with just over a quarter (26%) of the growth resulting from more sandwiches menued with ingredients featuring this flavor profile. Likewise, appetizers, soups and stews, and bakery items contributed to the proliferation of pumpkin-flavored ingredients on commercial foodservice menus for the period.

While these numbers reflect the winter quarter Q4, the menu incidence and growth rates are comparable for the earlier Q3 autumn quarter. In fact, the menuing of pumpkin flavored dishes/ingredients is breaking traditional seasonal boundaries with menu items being introduced earlier and earlier each year. In some cases, never coming off the menu at all. Instead of Christmas in July, think Thanksgiving.

*Source: Mintel Menu Insights is a quarterly census of over 3,000 US restaurant menus (30% market coverage) covering all commercial segments and US census regions with trend going back to Q2 2004. The database includes over 20,000 unique ingredients, and close to 290,000 unique menu item dishes updated quarterly,  Mintel Menu Insights is backed-up with a dedicated team of in-house data entry, data editor, data quality, product development, and industry analyst focused 100% on these menu data and trends.

Paul Pendola is Mintel’s Menu Insights Manager. He has over thirty years of foodservice operations, business and client development and research experience.

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