Imagine slurping ice-cold, blended dill pickle juice through a straw. That vision will soon become a reality, because Sonic Drive-In recently announced it is introducing a pickle juice slush for a limited time starting in June. Many people, even die-hard pickle lovers, had a hard time wrapping their heads around that announcement. Pickles are in their own category of mouth-puckering: Pickle juice is sour, but not in the same way that, say, blue raspberry flavoring is sour. It’s sour in the way that vinegar is sour. And just thinking about pickle juice (whether you’re a pickle lover or hater) is enough to induce that familiar saliva-producing mouthfeel.
Around this time last summer, I couldn’t keep count of all the texts I got from my friends proposing we go out to drink a beverage that’s the exact opposite of frozen pickle juice: frosé. At the time, frosé had become a staple on bar menus, it was chic, and people all across the country absolutely couldn’t get enough. But the pickle-inspired slushie drink poised to trend for summer 2018 isn’t sweet, cutesy, or millennial pink. It’s more difficult to envision texts from my friends begging me to join them to go sip this particular concoction. Unlike a green apple Jolly Rancher-flavored slush, the idea of chugging 44-ounces of neon-green, partially frozen pickle juice out of a Sonic Route 44 styrofoam cup is almost too much to process. Just imagine getting a pickle juice brain freeze.
But Sonic’s seemingly bizarre pickle slush didn’t come out of nowhere. Pickle-flavored foods have been popping up in restaurants and on store shelves for quite some time. A couple years back, Refinery29 reported on the then-revolutionary discovery that pickle juice could be purchased by the can. A few months later, we were horrified to learn that a pickle-flavored candy cane had come to haunt our holidays. Then, next thing we knew, we were covering pickle popsicles, pickle-flavored chips and popcorn, pickle-flavored vodka, and so many more pickle-flavored products.
This is all part of a larger trend: America is experiencing a pickle boom. According to data compiled by Statista from the U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey, 239.17 million Americans consumed pickles in 2017, and the figure is projected to increase to 245.56 million by 2020. A 2016 report by Technavio entitled “Global Pickles Market 2016-2020,” states that the global pickle market was valued at $11.02 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach a value of $12.74 billion by 2020. In America, the 2015 pickle market was valued at $5.36 billion, and is expected to reach $6.70 billion by 2020. This increase is also reflected by data from Pinterest revealing that saves for pickle recipes in 2018 are up 114% year over year. With the current saturation of pickle-flavored products and those monumental consumption stats, I feel comfortable calling it: we have officially reached peak pickle.
Especially those that involve potent flavors. Kara Nielsen, vice president of trends & marketing at food and beverage product development agency CCD Innovation Inc, tells Refinery29 that companies look for “button-pushing, eyebrow raising flavors” to sell products. Pickles are just the most recent addition to “that family of potent flavors — like a sriracha, like a bacon — that gets people’s attention,” she says. We can see this exact pattern play out by looking at several specific products. One is the aforementioned pickle candy cane, which in 2016 joined the ranks of bacon-flavored candy canes and sriracha-flavored candy canes.
The same phenomenon occured with Lay’s potato chips: Sriracha Lay’s became one of three finalists in 2013’s Do Us A Flavor contest, and in recent years, bacon has come into play with a few limited edition Lay’s flavors like BLT and Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese. Now, Dill Pickle Lay’s are all the rage. Pickle-flavored potato chips actually had a cult following for sometime, but Lay’s has found success with among a larger consumer base. The same sequence was followed by beermaker Rogue Ales. In 2014, Rogue Ales released Sriracha Hot Stout not long after it introduced Maple Bacon Ale. Then, guess what? In 2016, Rogue started serving Pickled Piper Cucumber Gose at one of its brewhouses in Issaquah, WA.