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'Pumpkin creep' pits beloved fall symbol against holiday marketers

With summer barely into its dying days, the air is thick with the scent of pumpkin spice. It's too much for some critics, but there's no such thing as a premature pumpkin for lovers of the symbolic squash.

Supporters claim squash's symbolism transcends 'too early' factor attached to Halloween

Sometimes it seems like pumpkins are literally everywhere. It turns out they really are. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

With summer barely into its dying days, the scent of pumpkin spice hangs thick in the air.

But where critics see creep in the wave of orange currently flooding through everything from lattes to beer and pet food, lovers of the symbolic squash say there's no such thing as a premature pumpkin.

"It's not the dark side of Halloween, it's the enjoyment side, the fun side, the creative side, the edible side," says gardening expert Brian Minter.

"There's no such a thing as 'just a pumpkin': they've moved on to an entirely new realm which is absolutely amazing and quite wonderful."

Pumpkin power!

Even putting aside Minter's rhapsodic praise, there's no doubting the power of the pumpkin — especially at this time of year.

According to Nielsen research, 37 per cent of U.S. consumers bought a pumpkin-flavoured product last year for sales worth $361 million US. That's an increase of nearly 80 per cent since 2011.

According to Statistics Canada, the average farm gate value of pumpkins has more than doubled since 2007, from $11 million to $23 million.

Everyone loves pumpkins. But it's hard to ask some people to share. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News/The Associated Press)

The Nielsen figures still put pie filling at the head of the pumpkin pack in terms of sales amounts. But pumpkin-related coffees and even dog food make up a sizeable chunk of the market.

The trend isn't without its detractors.

In a piece titled 'Unpopular opinion: I hate pumpkin spice lattes', style writer Perrie Samotin begged readers not to judge her for finding the Starbucks seasonal drink "syrupy, artificial tasting and downright cloying."

Add to that 'way to early' says Laurie Cataldo.

The New Jersey radio host wrote a piece called 'Pumpkin Creep is a real thing' last month. She claims to like the taste of pumpkin — in October.

"I personally have an inner-argument every year because I love pumpkin-flavoured stuff," she says. "But I can't cave in that early."

Cataldo says she has no issue with the pumpkin as a symbol of the fall harvest. But she hates to see summer succumb to a squash.

Trick and treat?

Pumpkin protesters say marketers have replaced the traditional seasons with a consumer calendar that runs something like: Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and then Christmas again.

But farmers like Heather Laity say the mighty pumpkin has powers which transcend crass commercialism.

Her 24-acre Maple Ridge, B.C. pumpkin patch will be busy for the next two months. But Laity says carving a jack-o-lantern is no longer the primary attraction.

"I think it's changing," she said.

"It started out about carving for Halloween. And now, it's moving to just a family day out. It's more about a fall harvest theme now."

There may, of course, be more to pumpkin power than meets the eye: according to one study, the scent of pumpkin pie mixed with lavender causes a high level of sexual arousal amongst male volunteers.

That led to an internet hoax about a pumpkin-spiced condom: the ultimate trick and treat.