It was nearly dinnertime at Randall Friesen's home in Wetaskiwin, Alta., when his wife came home from Safeway and plunked a carton of eggnog on the table earlier this week.

"I don't know what to think," Friesen said. "Even the cashier was surprised."

Friesen, who prefers to mix his 'nog with Coke, counts himself as a big fan of the milky, sugary beverage traditionally associated with the Christmas season.

But to have it on store shelves in mid-September was a bit of a stretch, even for him.

"It was ridiculously early in the year. Usually we see it maybe at Thanksgiving, but this was a surprise."

Sobeys, which owns Safeway, confirmed it has started to ship the milky holiday elixir to stores across western Canada.

In an age of increasing "Christmas creep," some marketing experts say offering eggnog in September is likely an experiment to see how far consumers' holiday dollars will stretch.

Shaking up the market

Rather than make an attempt to rebrand the drink for fall, the company has issued it in the same snowman-laden packaging that it normally comes in — a contrast for many cities in western Canada, where it's still warm enough to be wearing shorts.

"I think somebody's trying for basically an explosive effect here," said Lindsay Meredith, professor emeritus of marketing strategy at SFU's Beedie School of Business.  

"Like, let's just shake up the marketplace and just dump a bunch of this stuff out there."

Meredith says eggnog is so closely associated with Christmas and the holiday season that it wouldn't necessarily make sense for Lucerne to rebrand it for fall. 

Season-specific products, he says, both benefit from and are disadvantaged by the holidays they're tied to: sales surge in season and then plummet.

"When you see a product like this way out its normal market niche, you're going to hope that people are just frankly going to pick it up because they like the taste of the thing," he said. 

"Will it catch on? Well, we're going to find out how many of those shelves empty out how quickly."

Offering season-specific products too far out of their traditional span can damage their special or unique quality, Meredith says.

Craving Christmas in September

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, based out of San Francisco's Golden Gate University, says there could be a market for a fall-rebranded eggnog.

But she says the already limited market for the product means it probably wouldn't make financial sense for a company like Lucerne to invest in new, fall-oriented branding and packaging for it. 

Yarrow also thinks there's another reason why keeping the winter packaging makes sense.

"There's a certain element of the population that really craves, craves, craves some of those holiday traditions, and they beg for them earlier and earlier," Yarrow said.

As for the "Christmas-creep" aspect of pushing eggnog in September, Yarrow points to differences between perishable products and other Christmas fare like decorations. 

Eggnog is most likely to be an impulse buy, she says, and consumed immediately. It also doesn't take up much space on limited refrigerated store shelves. 

Yarrow says other types of holiday products and holiday merchandising offered too early in the season have a better chance of offending large swaths of shoppers.

"They feel like they want to save the holiday by bordering it around a certain time frame," Yarrow said. 

Push of commercialization

But for every person offended by Christmas creep, she says, is someone equally excited to get an early start to the holiday season.

Yarrow says both groups are driven by the same motive: to preserve the holidays from the push of commercialization.

The latter demographic, she explains, just wants to get the shopping out of the way so they can enjoy the season without the rush of last-minute shopping. 

"It's a misunderstanding on part of both sets of consumers," Yarrow said.

As for those so gung-ho about the taste of eggnog that they would like to see it offered year-round, Western Dairy Council spokesperson Dan Wong has a solution. 

"The product does freeze," he said.