Pumpkin Spice Is No Basic Buy — Fans Spend 14% More on Flavored Goods

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.
©Starbucks

Christmas has peppermint, Valentine’s Day has chocolate and, for the fall holiday season, the official flavor is pumpkin spice. In fact, consumers are such pumpkin spice devotees this time of year that they are willing to pay 14% more for flavored goods, from coffee to cookies to hummus.

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MarketWatch recently reported on a study conducted by MagnifyMoney that found retailers often apply a “pumpkin spice tax” on seasonal products, upcharging them by roughly 14.1% more than regular options of the same item. And it continues to be a growing trend — when MagnifyMoney (a site run by Lending Tree) looked at the same markup in 2020, it was only 8.8% at that time.

The study pointed out a couple examples from popular grocery store Trader Joe’s, finding that the chain’s Pumpkin Spiced Teeny Tiny Pretzels have a price tag that’s 161.1% more than their Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks. And when it comes to the brand’s Pumpkin Spice Hummus, it’s 49.9% more expensive than the Mediterranean Style Hummus.

The demand for these seasonal flavored goods has been a bit of a boon for retailers struggling in 2022 amid rising inflation, per CBS News, who spoke to MagnifyMoney executive editor Ismat Mangla. Mangla shared that retailers are able to “offset certain costs by raising prices on things they know people are clamoring for for a short period of time. Pumpkin spice is not difficult to procure, but it’s a way for restaurants and stores to capitalize and make a little bit more money on what is in demand.”

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As MarketWatch noted, consumers often go along with the pricing without batting an eye because the items are not considered “essentials” or something they have to buy all the time, like gasoline, where price fluctuations draw big reactions. Though, as GOBankingRates has reported, there are ways to save on these seasonal goods by making some items at home and buying coffee drinks and treats from less pricy competitors.

Of course, the demand for all things pumpkin spice is also the byproduct of good branding. When Starbucks introduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) 19 years ago, they created a cultural phenomenon resulting in memes and TikTok fodder nearly two decades later.

CBS News indicated the coffee chain has sold 500 million cups of the seasonal drink since 2003, even though the PSL is only available for a limited time. Knowing the demand, Starbucks has also launched a suite of linked products like pumpkin scones, muffins and at-home brewing options that have capitalized on consumer interest. This year, they even launched an online pumpkin portal with quizzes and contests for customers.

Starbucks also upcharges for the PSL, a price of $6.45 for a grande (medium) size of the drink, whereas a normal latte at the coffee chain goes for $5.45.

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A Starbucks executive recently called the PSL the “gold standard of innovation” and certainly the data would point to that being true. According to Nielsen data, reported by CNBC, the pumpkin spice market has a value of about $511 million, growing around 5% every year.

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The appeal? It’s simple economics really, says Jadrian Wooten, Virginia Tech University professor who spoke with CNBC. “We wouldn’t want it if it was available all year long. Companies take those things away from us and give them back to us. Because they take it away, we want it more later.”

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined GOBankingRates.com in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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