There was a time when pumpkin ales were hot and greeted with the same kind of anticipation that some New England IPA’s are now experiencing…but no longer. And we’re not sure that buzz is ever coming back.
Here’s the deal…
Back in the day (maybe as far back as a decade ago) pumpkin beers were all the rage…Retail shelves we’re stocked with a multitude of gourdian ales and sell-through was epic, but not anymore.
So what happened?
Actually there are many factors that have caused pumpkin beer sales to slow and one of them is just plain old familiarity with the style and evolving consumer preferences that have become increasingly sophisticated.
The whole seasonal beer thing just seemed more unique and vital in 2008 than it does now. In fact the seasonal segment (which includes pumpkin beers) is well off its all-time highs of 20%. And although it still commanded almost 16 percent of all craft beer sales in 2016, there were storm clouds on the horizon.
Pumpkin ale sales were reportedly “down 6 percent last year in the 12 weeks leading up to Dec. 3, 2017,” (a prime sales window for fall seasonals and pumpkin beers in particular) according to IRI a Chicago-based research firm that tracks sales at supermarkets, mass-market chains and convenience stores.
And in an increasingly competitive craft beer market, the concept of seasonality itself is being undermined by a condition referred to as “seasonal creep.”
To ensure product placement and the obvious advantage that come with being first in at retail, brewers started shipping pumpkin beers in August (and some even in July) totally diluting their seasonal value.
No craft beer consumer craves a pumpkin ale before Labor Day to begin with…And those who reasonably choose to wait till the weather starts to change are drinking OLD beer.
Maybe the fact that the American craft industry is now middle-aged is also a factor, in 2007 consumers were in full-on ‘discovery mode.” New pumpkin beer variations seemed interesting and vital back then…not so much today.
And the truth is that pumpkin beers have always been a polarizing style…unlike the American IPA their appeal has long been niche…As with winter seasonals they’re embraced more times than not because the “time just feels right,” as opposed to someone just craving a beer that tastes like pumpkin pie…just sayin.’
But pumpkin beers aren’t going away … Retailers are still ordering them, but much more cautiously…But if they’re still on the shelves at Thanksgiving, they start freaking out.
Finally it’s impossible to look at the pumpkin beer’s declining market share without looking at the craft beer industry as a whole…Craft beer is no longer like the hot young band tearing it up and selling out clubs, it’s arena rock now, and aging arena rock at that. And its audience has matured as well.
Now the good news (and for some the bad news), pumpkin beers will never disappear completely. But no matter what brewers come up with, they’ll never reclaim the buzz they once had.
Today’s increasingly ADHD craft beer consumer has already moved on from pumpkin ales to the “newest and the next.”
And in this era of hazy IPAs (which will eventually also fall from grace) pumpkin beers have more party favors and afterthoughts, than an essential style that any informed craft beer fan is in a hurry to chase down.