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The Great Pumpkin Debate 2018

Here we are halfway through August, Labor Day still a couple weeks away, and much like years past the beer shelves are becoming full of orange labeled, gourd and spice infused elixirs that every year bring about debate from the furthest reaches of the beer universe. It’s that time of the year for pumpkin beers.

Two years ago I wrote a post about how it seemed that the pumpkin craze had been taking a downward turn. More people than ever were beginning to voice their concerns over the earlier and earlier releases of all things pumpkin, not just beer.

It’s been no secret in beer that seasonal creep has been a trend for quite awhile. Fall seasonal beers having been hitting stores in as early as late July. Spring beers are out while many cities in colder climates still battle with snow storms. And summer beers are rotated in seemingly before the first cherry blossom has bloomed.

In the same year of my posting of that article Shipyard Brewing, in Maine, announced their plans to combat seasonal creep by releasing their popular Pumpkinhead fall seasonal on September 1st. This was a bold move as Pumpkinhead was one of the brands that seemingly saw a release earlier and earlier each year. It was a risk for Shipyard as many major chains want fall seasonals on their shelves in early August.

It would appear that this attempt say no to seasonal creep didn’t go very well for Shipyard because as of writing this, August 14th, Pumpkinhead displays are up all over South Florida. Shipyard has even created a marketing campaign saying that it’s never too soon for Pumpkinhead.

But this little experiment just goes to show that the breweries only have so much pull when it comes to the optimal time to release a seasonal beer. Retailers create deadlines that breweries need to meet in order to get prime locations in stores like end caps or display space and those huge spaces of real estate can help sell more beer in a category that appears to be dwindling. Any little advantage can help.

If the chains tell you that they will require the product by August 1st then your distributor will want that product in house at least a week prior, if not more. That means breweries have to brew pumpkin beers in late June or early July to meet these demands.

But all while this is happening the consumers seem to be easing back on their pumpkin intake. There are 3 tiers of interest in the whole pumpkin game (and oddly distributors are not really one of them). The brewery, the retailer and the consumer.

For a number of years America was in a pumpkin spiced craze. Pumpkin spiced coffee, candles, donuts, wet naps (probably) and just about anything you could make have a scent. Of course with the increase in craft beer’s footprint it was a given that pumpkin beer would see a blast in popularity.

Consumers demanded their pumpkin everything earlier and earlier. Retailers getting these demands would start wanting the suppliers to provide their pumpkin fiend customers with their fixes earlier and earlier. That’s, in essence, how we got here.

So why is it that in a market that has seemingly gone through pumpkin everything rehab do we continue to see the same practice of early roll out? Not as many people are demanding mainlines of pumpkin beer as they were three years ago yet we are still seeing displays with orange, red and yellows leaves, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns in late July and early August.

Sure, seasonal creep is not something specific to the food and beverage industry. My local big box retailer had one little display set up for Halloween already this past weekend. It’s not full on costume sections and aisles of bags of candy but it is planting that seed in people’s minds. And what do most of us say when we see this? “Ugh, already?”

So is this just what we are going to have to accept? Fall beers will always be out when most are still spending weekend days in the pool or at the beach because it’s too damn hot and humid? Kids in the Northeast have 2-4 weeks left of their summer vacations and their parents are seeing pumpkin beers before even thinking about buying little Johnny or Kate a 3 ring binder. I do think that it’s what we are going to have to get used to.

Even with decreased interest in a lot of people to have pumpkin beers before their final BBQ of summer there still remains many that will jump on that first sixer of gourdy goodness that they come across each year. There must still be a demand for it to a certain extent if retailers are going to continue to want supplies in store this early each year.

Pretty much if you don’t want to drink pumpkin beers super early, don’t. If you want to grab the first, second and even third ones you see and pound them on your porch while mosquitoes chomp away on your flesh, be my guest as well. No one is wrong. No one is right.

Despite my own writings on this push of the seasons I myself become a victim of the creep as well. I bought a six pack of Oktoberfest last week…in August. So despite my best efforts to get true seasonality back in beer I too can be part of the problem.

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