Season’s Eatings
By Deborah Cassell

It’s time for the kids to shop for costumes, mom to order that turkey and dad to untangle those lights. Meanwhile, retailers are scrambling to deck their halls, er, shelves, cases and in-store bakeries with candy, cookies, cakes and pies for the forthcoming holiday season.

For every sweet, there is a season. For candy bars and popcorn balls, it’s Halloween. For apple crisps and pumpkin pies, it’s Thanksgiving. And for sugar cookies and candy canes, it’s Christmas. The holidays are big business for supermarkets and in-store bakeries, where most consumers shop for baked goods, particularly in late fall and early winter, making the fourth quarter of the calendar year an extra happy one for retailers, manufacturers and bakers of all things sugary and sweet.
Spooky Sweets and Sizes
It seems that just as kids come down from their Easter candy fix, it’s time for Halloween, the fun, cavity-causing holiday that’s marked by more treats than tricks. Snack packs, miniatures and “fun-size” portions are particularly popular on this traditionally sugar-laden holiday.
For example, Nabisco offers Halloween Mini Oreo, Teddy Grahams and Ritz Bitz Peanut Butter Sandwiches  in Fun Size packs starting in mid/late September through Halloween. Nabisco also makes an 18-oz. overwrapped tray package of Halloween Oreos with five different cookie embossments and orange crème filling.
Please Pass the Pie
Thanksgiving and Christmas are “pie season,” says Marla Cushing, director of category marketing — desserts for Schwan’s Bakery, Inc., Suwanee, Ga.
Indeed, nothing says Thanksgiving like a pumpkin pie. Nearly every pie producer makes one. In fact, at the 2006 American Pie Championships, 15 manufacturers competed in this traditional category. The winners were Hill and Valley (Family-style), J. Horner’s (Premium) and Bakers Square (Gourmet and Super Gourmet). This November, the Food Network will run a special show featuring apple, pumpkin and other Thanksgiving pies, as well as coverage of the American Pie Championships, which took place earlier this year in Orlando, Fla.
But pie season extends beyond fall.
“November and December account for over 40% of the annual consumption for the frozen dessert category,” says Bob Trombino, senior director of marketing and category leadership for Schwan’s Bakery, Inc. — Retail, maker of Edwards, Mrs. Smith’s and Heidi’s Gourmet products.
“Beginning in October, to get an early start to the fall consumption period, and right through the Christmas holiday, we will make use of in-store promotional tools, traditional Sunday newspaper coupon booklets and trade promotion programs to drive the consumer to the retail shelf to purchase Edwards and Mrs. Smith’s pies for holiday entertaining,” he adds. “We’re anticipating that the 2006 holiday season volume will exceed the performance we experienced last year.”
This season, Schwan’s Finishing Touches Holiday Dessert Program will include two products from Heidi’s Gourmet. The varieties include a Pumpkin Cheesecake with a ginger snap crust and a 12-cut, New York-style Candy Cane Cheescake featuring swirled peppermint on a chocolate crust and finished off with ribbons of white chocolate peppermint. Also part of the Schwan’s program is Mrs. Smith’s Cranberry Apple Crisp with Ginger Cinnamon Streusel. Unlike the mainstream Mrs. Smith’s brand, Heidi’s Gourmet frozen desserts are sold in high-end independent restaurants, casual dining chains, colleges and universities, healthcare channels, ad businesses and institutions.
Seasonal favorites from Schwan include its Hearty Pumpkin, Pumpkin Custard, Homemade Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Mince pies, all of which are sold through traditional retail grocers and mass merchandisers.
Perennial Favorites
Pie aside, Thanksgiving and Christmas are marked by an assortment of sweet goods, many from brands that consumers have come to know, trust and look forward to buying every year.
For example, Little Debbie’s seasonal sweets include Pumpkin Delights, Fall Party Cakes, Fall Brownies and Fall Marshmallow Treats. Christmastime treats include Christmas Tree Cakes and Christmas Tree Brownies. Although Little Debbie promotes its products TV commercials and print ads, and special packaging to make the treats stand out in the store, the brand has such a loyal following that the same consumers purchase the products year after year.
“Consumers really enjoy these special treats each year and look forward to their arrival,” says Angie Shelton, product manager for McKee Foods Corp., Collegedale, Tenn., owner of the Little Debbie brand. “We have been told many times by consumers that they grew up enjoying Little Debbie brand products and now provide them to their family as treats. McKee is so thankful for the loyalty consumers have to the Little Debbie brand. That’s why we continue to focus our attention on providing consumers with high-quality snacks at affordable prices.”
Another consumer favorite, Archway Home Style Cookies, Battle Creek, Mich., offers such popular holiday fare as Almond Crescents, Tree cookies and, yes, fruitcake. (See “The Fruitcake Controversy.”)
In addition, Entenmann’s, owned by Toronto-based George Weston Foods, annually offers its classic Holiday Butter Cookies, Holiday Raspberry Chocolate Butter Cookies, Holiday Popems, Holiday Donuts, Holiday Chocolate Cupcakes, Holiday Devil’s Foodcake, Holiday Golden Cake and Walnut Topped Golden Cake.
Meanwhile, the Ginger People, Monterey, Calif., takes advantage of another popular holiday flavor: ginger. The Ginger Lover’s Cookie Collection features ginger snaps, ginger shortbread, ginger Anzacs and ginger snaps made from all-natural ingredients.
To everything, there is a season … and a sweet. Whether in a bag, a bowl or a stocking hung with care, today’s traditional treats are sure to bring sweet dreams and big smiles to kids and adults of all ages. SF&WB
Forget the candy bars, popcorn balls and McDonald’s gift certificates. This year, little ghosts and goblins may very well be receiving …. pretzels?
According to Snyder’s of Hanover, Hanover, Pa., pretzels are a healthy alternative to sugary candy for trick-or-treaters, especially given increased concern over childhood obesity.
“Despite rising candy sales, parents know that sugary candy isn’t good for their children,” says Mike Brookhart, marketing manager for Snyder’s of Hanover. “We wanted to provide an alternative that kids would still love and parents could feel good about handing out. As we all know, stopping the rise in obesity really comes down to small everyday decisions. This was one of them.”
Snyder’s of Hanover offers a Halloween Snack Pack that comes in a large, pumpkin-decorated bag containing 36 individually sized bags of the company’s Mini Pretzels. Each bag contains 50-calorie portions of fat-free pretzels.
The Fruitcake Controversy
Few baked goods generate as much debate as the perennial holiday fruitcake. Shunned by many a consumer — and baked by just as many — this candied fruit- and nut-filled treat is to Christmas as Punxsutawny Phil is to Groundhog’s Day: Both make appearances just once a year.
Despite the jokes (For example: Fruitcakes are like loaves and fishes. Each one yields 1,000 servings.), fruitcake has become synonymous with the yuletide season. It’s baked by mothers and grandmothers the world over, sold by department stores and bakeries every winter, and even produced by Trappist monks for liturgical profit. An online Google search for fruitcake yields hundreds of results, but among the top five is the Holy Cross Abbey ( in Berryville, Va., for whom fruitcakes are big business. The Web site even makes this promise: “The monks of Holy Cross Abbey unconditionally guarantee that our fruitcake is the best you’ll ever eat or we will cheerfully refund your money.”
But the monks face competition from another, albeit less religious, category leader. Claxton Fruitcake ( is a noteworthy resource for dedicated fruitcake connoisseurs worldwide.  The 50,000-sq.-ft. bakery — which calls itself the “Quality Choice of Millions Since 1910” — is located in the “Fruit Cake Capital of the World,” Claxton, Ga., and has the capacity to bake 86,000 lbs. of fruitcake per day in its seven ovens.
Still think fruitcake is funny? Don’t tell that to members of The Society for the Protection and Preservation of the Fruitcake, whose Web site,, states: “Fruitcake, much maligned, the butt of many jokes and practical jokes — and yet much esteemed by many, and an important part of many folks’ holiday tradition and ritual.”
Editor’s Note: Dec. 27 is National Fruitcake Day. Celebrate this yuletide event by making your own cake … or re-gifting an old one.
’Run, run, as fast as you can!’
Gingerbread men are favorite holiday treats for kids of all ages — fun to eat, as well as make. But chefs at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, had their hands full when they baked up the world’s largest gingerbread man back in 2003. According to Guinness World Records, the cookie weighed in at 372.13 lb. and measured 13 ft. 11 in. tall, 5 ft. 8 in. wide and 2 in. deep.
The ingredient list was equally daunting: 220.46 lb. silver star flour3.52 lb. baking soda3.52 lb. sea salt44 lb. shortening44 lb. white sugar44 lb. molasses (refined sugar syrup)8.8 lb. ground ginger3.52 lb. ground nutmeg