Produce event merchandising for September to the end of November is divided into three. These are Fall, which is all about cinnamon, artfully arranged wheatsheafs, pumpkins and apples; Halloween – more pumpkins, caramel apples and all the “candy”; and Thanksgiving – apples (including pie), pecans (including pie), and pumpkins (including pie). At Thanksgiving there are lots of roast dinner options as this is almost bigger than Christmas as a family event.
All these events have differentiated marketing and merchandising, but there are crossovers that drive two produce areas: apples and pumpkins. In apples UK supermarkets do try to promote ‘seasonality’, though their efforts in theatre pale in comparison to those of American retailers.
Pumpkin suppliers, meanwhile, really benefit from the fact that the product appears here in the first week of September and goes all the way through to the end of November. There is no single crazy week just before Halloween when everyone piles crates into the front of stores; there is no huge pressures on buyers to get just the right volumes, sizes and price.
Pumpkin volumes are driven through two means of diversification. The first is eating – pumpkin is marketed as both a savoury and a sweet ingredient. Eating pumpkins are available in all retailers, but ready prepared in only a few. Used as a roasted vegetable or included in soup or risotto, pumpkin gnocchi is touted as the new rival to cauliflower. Pumpkin pie is the American staple, while pancakes, donuts, cookies, cakes and so on are all popular for homebakers.
The biggest volume driver is ornamental pumpkin, and the varieties reflect this – white, yellow, red, mini, ugly and heritage offer a rainbow of shapes, sizes and colours. It is customary to decorate doorsteps with artistically arranged piles of pumpkins, cute autumnal burlap wreaths in rustic colours and twee inspirational welcoming plaques.
Then for Halloween it’s painted pumpkins (as popular as carved) and you can buy them pre-painted or get a kit and do it yourself. Store displays are crazy; they line the car parks and lengths of the store. Thanksgiving goes back to ‘pretty’ cinnamon and orange branch wreaths again and rustic pumpkin piles.
Halloween is gaudy; decorative gourds are not. It’s all blatant commercialism.