Fall officially began Tuesday, but as anyone who’s recently purchased coffee, candles, cereal or candy knows, we’ve been knee-deep in pumpkin spice season for a month already.
Dunkin’ brought its Signature Pumpkin Spice Latte back Aug. 19, a week earlier than PSL originator Starbucks, which introduced its fall products Aug. 25. Videos reviewing Target’s fall home decor appear on YouTube as early as Aug. 21.
On the confectionery side, Seattle Chocolate brought back its Milk Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Truffle Bar and launched a care package featuring all its fall flavors. Earlier this year, Chicago Vegan Foods introduced a snack-size package for its Dandies vegan pumpkin marshmallows.
And in the ultimate mashup of cultural phenomenon, Vive Hard Seltzer announced Aug. 13 it would launch a pumpkin spice variety this month.
Of course, the global COVID-19 pandemic, West Coast wildfires, political turmoil and protests over racial injustice have been the main topics of conversation lately, but to me, it seems like pumpkin spice season began with little fanfare this year.
Each fall, we wonder how much of an impact pumpkin spice will have. With all the chaos and misfortune 2020 has brought, if any year could take down the autumnal trend, it would be this one.
But I don’t think that’ll happen. It seems the reason pumpkin spice snuck quietly back into stores and coffee drinks is because it’s become an accepted annual tradition, just as peppermint products are synonymous with wintertime.
And if anything, fans of the flavor might need the warm and cozy feelings it’s meant to inspire now more than ever.
“It’s that one thing that still manages to thrive, untouched by the pandemic,” Matthew Barry, beverage consultant for Euromonitor International, told Refinery29. “A lot of things are going to be scary and uncertain this fall, but the pumpkin spice latte is going to be the same it’s always been.”
Pumpkin spice could prove to be beneficial for businesses and brands that have been feeling the pinch during the pandemic, since it encourages return trips and increases total purchases, the NPD Group reported. The research firm said that in September and October 2019, checks for a “major gourmet coffee chain” that included PSLs were $2.77 more than the average spend in previous months.
“Pumpkin spice lattes are a harbinger of fall,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Consumers anticipate their availability and know the drinks are only around for a short period of time and this anticipation creates demand. With foodservice visits down overall, the success of this year’s pumpkin spice latte offers remains to be seen.”
The NPD Group also offered a picture of PSL buyers. Just over 60 percent had annual incomes of $75,000 or greater, while 48 percent are 45 years or older. Nearly 60 percent (57 percent) of PSL drinkers are women, while 65 percent do not have children under 18 in their households.
It’s slightly different from the “basic” scarf-wearing, apple-picking young women we see on Instagram and other social media, where they’re often ridiculed for it.
But, in the end, does it really matter? Let the people have their pumpkin spice — it’s good for food manufacturers seeking a seasonal boost and for anyone looking for simple ways to survive these trying times.