( Courtesy Bay Baby Produce )

Beginning in August, pumpkin harvest will get underway across North America and retailers will start incorporating pumpkins and ornamental squash into their retail sets in anticipation of an October sales peak.

The 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture reported a total of 93,563 acres of pumpkins were harvested from 15,224 farms that year, up from 90,165 acres harvested from 15,840 farms in 2012. 

Fresh market pumpkin acres harvested in 2017 totaled 75,341.

Michele Youngquist, president of Bay Baby Produce, Inc., Mount Vernon, Wash., said her firm was on schedule for harvest of pumpkins and ornamental squash by mid-August.

The growing season this year was mild during planting, followed by a spell of cooler weather and now hotter temperatures, she said.

“We have been irrigating the whole time, so at this point we seem to be right on schedule as far as harvest and starting our packing warehouse,” she said. 

The first harvest will be pie pumpkins for bulk shipment and painting, followed by wee be little pumpkins. Those can be sold as-is and also painted, she said.

Later varieties including the long-stem ornamental tiger stripe, casper and sparkler pumpkins, she said.

Rachel Kosler, sales representative with Wallendal Farms, Grand Marsh, Wis., said the firm expects to start pumpkin harvest the first weekend in September.

Larry Chapman, sales representative with Schmieding Produce Co. LLC, Springdale, Ark., said the company expects normal timing this year, with volume starting the first of September. 

Schmieding sells mostly to retail but also ships to some distributors and some pumpkin patches.

The company offers ornamental heirloom varieties, including cinderella and fairy tale pumpkins in addition to the standard jack-o-lantern pumpkins.

Marketing impact

Youngquist said the company’s long-stem pumpkins are often sold together at retail because they make a nice visual ffect and offer different textures and hues for decorating.

Bay Baby Produce ships from its Washington state farm to all parts of the U.S. and also exports to Canada, Taiwan and Japan.

Retailers are planning ahead better for the fall season.

“I also see (retailers) executing better, because they realize it is such a good financial pop for the fall season because they get that ornamental/fall decorative impulse buying,” she said. 

“People love fall decoration, and when that time comes, people are looking for the interesting and different pumpkins to decorate their homes and porches with,” she said.

Because fall pumpkin sales bring such a strong financial lift, Youngquist said retailers are sourcing pumpkins earlier in the season.

“They are realizing the sooner they get (pumpkins) into retail into their store, (the sooner) they are going to get those first purchases, and then they’re going to get the repeat purchases,” she said. 

Youngquist said Bay Baby offers retailers custom designs.

“We were talking to (retailers) early in the season to ask what resonates with their customers, and how they would like it presented or delivered into their warehouses for easier distribution,” she said.

Retail strategies

Retailers — particularly discounters — use pumpkins as a real drawing card, said Mike Mauti, managing partner and senior vice president of client services for Execulytics Consulting.

Pumpkins are a necessary item for Halloween and for fall entertaining and decorating.

With a relatively short window of availability and usage, pumpkins can be a valuable asset to draw interest.

“You see very, very large displays, and pumpkin being the anchor for all the other fall-type decorating items like gourds, even haystacks and things like that,” he said. 

Those large displays are typically supported by aggressive pricing.

“The idea is have your customers know your store as a destination for good quality, low price pumpkins,” he said. 

“To save a little bit of money on a pumpkin is a good drawing card,” he said, and displays can be placed at the front of the store and even outside of the store.

With a price point of $4-5, pumpkins represent a significant ring in produce department sales, he said.

Pie pumpkins, smaller than decorative pumpkins, are typically featured early in the season.

Instead of promoting pumpkins at an aggressive price, upscale retail stores highlight the diversity of ornamental pumpkins, he said.

“There’s all these different varieties of pumpkin that some of the higher-end stores are getting into and it’s almost their way of getting out of the pumpkin ‘rat race,’” he said. Varieties like the princess pumpkin, the white pumpkin and other premium types can given a higher price.

“For a retailer like Wegmans, they’re not really drawing customers in because of price, so they want to try and draw them in with something a little fancier,” he said.