America’s pumpkin-flavored obsession

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CBS News San Francisco

NEW YORK — Fall is that magical time of year when temperatures cool, the leaves change colors — and consumers are bombarded by an ever growing din of pumpkin spice products.

The gourd’s popularity has led to what’s being called “pumpkin creep” where food makers introduce their pumpkin products earlier and earlier every year to grab a bigger slice of the growing pumpkin pie.

Len Gigante, a former hostage negotiator in Charlotte, North Carolina, who tried to start a national anti-pumpkin day, feels as though he’s being held hostage by the autumnal squash.

“We don’t eat Christmas trees. We shouldn’t eat pumpkins,” he told CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

CBS News met up with him — where else — at a pumpkin patch.

“What do you have against pumpkins?” Miller asked.

“It’s just the whole pumpkin spice, pumpkins getting into food thing — it’s just out of hand,” Gigante said.

“We have pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving! I mean, it’s sort of tradition,” Miller pointed out.

“That’s been around for years and years and years. But now we got pumpkin marshmallows. We got pumpkin in cookies. We got pumpkin in bread. We got pumpkin everywhere,” Gigante responded.

It’s everywhere because Americans can’t get enough.

Sales of pumpkin spice products topped $361 million last year, up 79 percent since 2011. Yet sales of real pumpkins dropped by nearly $9 million over that same period, according to the Nielson Company.

Sales of pumpkin flavored beers have grown by more than 1,500 percent in a decade.

So who’s responsible for this craze?

The coffee giant Starbucks introduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003, ironically without a trace of actual pumpkin mixed in.

Clever ad campaigns and hundreds of millions of drinks later, it remains their best selling seasonal beverage.

“That has reverberated out to everyone else and now you see everyone doing a pumpkin spice something. And it’s gotten out of control,” Grub Street editor Alan Sytsma said.

Now there are so many choices. You can have pumpkin-flavored cereal, reward your dog with a pumpkin treat or maybe just kick back with what’s called a Pumpkin King cocktail after a long hard day’s work.

Pumpkins are deeply rooted in American culture and baking pumpkin goods are a yearly tradition. But pumpkin spice sausages and flavored vodka were probably not on the menu at the first Thanksgiving.

Gigante thinks Americans have been duped into eating and drinking decoration.

“Just suckered in by this marketing…And then come the end of November, where’s pumpkin? Gone. With your money. It just runs off. It’s like a bad relationship,” he said.

All you pumpkin haters out there, have faith! The end is in sight. Thanksgiving is less than two months away, just in time for gingerbread lattes to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Until then, you can use this handy tool to find a pumpkin patch close to you.

Pumpkin Patches in West Tennessee

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