Summer has drawn to a close, which can only mean one thing: the onslaught of all things pumpkin spice – for better or for worse.
Since Starbucks launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte – or the PSL, as it’s known by diehard devotees – in 2003, it has become a cult classic among coffee drinkers and fall lovers alike.
Though Starbucks releases the burnt-orange, calorie-laden drink around Labor Day to trumpet the start of fall, many fanatics begin asking for it in mid- to late August. All that hype has made autumn “golden” for Starbucks.
Forbes estimated the PSL brought in $100 million last fall, despite the drink largely being a one-time “indulgence,” as market research firm NDP Group reported. In 2014, 72 percent of PSL customers bought the drink once, while 20 percent of customers purchased it twice.
Nonetheless, PSL buyers tend to spend more when they go for the autumn-inspired beverage. NDP Group reported last fall that the average check for PSL buyers in 2014 was $7.81, 17 percent more than the average check for non-buyers, $6.67.
It’s no surprise, then, that the snack, bakery, confectionery, dairy and even pet food industries have jumped on the bandwagon. And so far, it seems to have worked. Nielsen reported last fall that pumpkin products accounted for $361 million in sales in 2014, representing a 79 percent increase since 2011.
Much of that comes through the bakery and snack food sectors. Last fall, Nielsen reported that in 2014 pumpkin-flavored baking mixes brought in $25.7 million, while baked pumpkin breads brought in $24.2 million. Fresh pumpkin-baked desserts generated $6.4 million in sales revenue.
Pumpkin-flavored confections, meanwhile, may start seeing a drop-off. Earlier this year, the National Confectioners Association cited Nielsen data showing that pumpkin-flavored candy experienced a 100 percent decrease in sales from 2014 to 2015.
Nonetheless, Candy Industry has reported on at least five new pumpkin-flavored items in 2016, two of which were chocolate confections. Even if fall product trends shift toward other flavors, pumpkin spice will likely remain a classic.
For me, that’s a good thing. I’ll admit: I’ve had at least one PSL in my day, and I can plow through a whole bag of Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses, no sweat. The new Pumpkin Dark Chocolate biscotti from Nonni’s Foods went down alright, too. And let’s not forget Lindt & Sprungli’s recently launched Lindor Pumpkin Spice truffles.
Others aren’t so inclined. As soon as the PSL hits Starbucks stores, anti-pumpkin protesters rally as quickly as PSL supporters do. The Philly Voice reported in August that Philadelphia resident Sean Bauer and his coworker, Billy Cress, have picketed outside of coffee shops with signs reading, “Stop Premature Pumpkin Spicing” for two years.
“I always see people talking about the drama surround(ing) this pumpkin-spice thing,” Bauer told the Philly Voice. “When some people think about fall, they think of horrible artificial taste. We don’t see it that way. When I think about fall, I’m picturing myself wearing a flannel shirt, drinking something like apple cider, not a sugary, fake nutmeg taste.”
That’s harsh, but it shows that pumpkin-flavored products get people talking, and in many cases, buying.