Maura Judkis of The Washington Post spent a week buying every pumpkin spice product she saw: yogurt, cookies, pasta sauce — the basics. But also candles, deodorant, and pumpkin printed paper towels. Judkis wrote about the experience and joined Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal to discuss her piece. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Why did you do this?
Maura Judkis: Well, there are so many more pumpkin spice themed products that we're seeing in stores year after year. And you know, I wondered what would happen if I actually just bought every single one that I encountered in the course of just regular grocery shopping in a week.
Ryssdal: Did you go looking or was it serendipity? Did you come across the pumpkin Cheerios in the aisles or did you say "I need a box of pumpkin flavored Cheerios"?
Judkis: A little bit of both. I mean I was going to different grocery stores in the Washington D.C. area. I went to Target, a Giant, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, to see what they had. But then also if I encountered something online, I would buy it. So that is how I ended up with pumpkin spice deodorant.
Ryssdal: Of which I have spoken before on this program. Here's the thing though, at least for the edibles in this. It's not, you say, really about the pumpkin as a flavor. It's more like cinnamon and clove, and other stuff.
Judkis: Yeah. You know pumpkin is not even necessarily an ingredient in a lot of these products actually. Sometimes it's just pumpkin powder. Sometimes it's not even present in the ingredient list at all. But you know, you get this mix of cinnamon, and clove, and nutmeg, and ginger, and allspice and it just reminds you of pumpkin pie and of the holidays, and it gives you this warm nostalgic and kind of loving feeling that a lot of companies want you to feel that when you think of their products.
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Ryssdal: Where did pumpkin spice come from? I mean you did some research.
Judkis: So The Washington Post might be partially to blame. We're sorry and you're welcome. So pumpkin pie spice was packaged and sold as a blend in the 1950s for the first time. But before that there was a pumpkin spice cake recipe that ran in The Washington Post in 1936 and it is the first reference that we could find to pumpkin spice together. There are other recipes that involve pumpkin and use some of these spices but no one really called it a pumpkin spice cake or a pumpkin spice bread until we did, unfortunately.
Ryssdal: You point out at the end of this article that while there are more products than ever available that have pumpkin spice in some form, sales are actually down.
Judkis: Well they're just not growing as quickly as they have in previous years. So we're seeing you know more and more pumpkin spice products than ever. I think one market research firm found that there are 50 percent more pumpkin spice products available online this year than the previous year. But people who have been researching this have found that sales are not growing as quickly anywhere between, only 6 to 20 percent over previous years and in other years we've seen much more growth so we could be seeing the beginning of the end of pumpkin spice everything.
Ryssdal: So at the end of your week in pumpkin spice land, what's your verdict? What was your mood? How did you feel?
Judkis: I felt really embarrassed. First of all because I was going to grocery stores and I looked like a crazy person. I had cart loads of pumpkin spice of everything in my car it was orange and it was it was like cookies and candies and coffee and tea and sweets. And so I must've looked really crazy. I was doing the self-checkout aisle because I didn't want to invite the judgment of these cashiers who must have thought I was the world's biggest pumpkin spice fan.