Fall Begins: Here’s How Much Money Pumpkin Spice Products Rake In
Over the past couple of decades, before the leaves even begin turning colors as summer shifts to fall, pumpkin spice begins to pop up wherever you look. Not only the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte — either loved or hated by many — but in more food items than you can even imagine.
Chips, beverages, baked goods, curry, cereal. You can even get a Bud Light pumpkinspice flavored hard seltzer this year, pumpkin Cup-o-Noodles and Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts. Trader Joe’s releases a number of pumpkin flavored products every year — if food blogger @markie_devo’s recent instagram post is correct, this year’s selections will include gluten-free streussel muffins, gnocci, cookies and chipotle roasting sauce. However, the chain has, in the past, stretched the loyalty of even pumpkin spice fanatics with such products as: pumpkin Alfredo sauce and pumpkin dog treats. You can even scent your home (candles) and your body (lotions) with the fragrance of pumpkin spice.
Though this particular spicy-sweet flavor seems to have been haunting grocery stores and coffee shops forever, in truth, its ascent to popularity began in 2003, according to Ad Age. This was when Starbucks first introduced its Pumpkin Spice Latte (or PSL to customers). The initial tests were a raving success and by 2013, the drink was so popular that individual Starbucks could not keep up with the demand, according to Fast Company. Will this seasonal sensation finally run its course, or is it here to stay? And just how much money are people spending on pumpkin spice-flavored products?
It Tastes Like a Nearly Billion-Dollar Enterprise
It’s no surprise that retailers keep turning out the pumpkin spice and thinking up new products to flavor with it — consumers spent about half a billion dollars on such flavored products in the U.S. in 2019, the most recent year for which Nielson has released data. Pumpkin-flavored grocery products reaped $511 million, which was 4.7% more than 2018.
Though coffee companies don’t release sales data by flavor, Starbucks’ overall sales rose 10% the week of its 2021 PSL debut, according to Bloomberg Second Measure. The coffee franchise has sold more than 600 million PSLs since the drink first landed in the public’s taste buds in 2003, CNN reported. That would be more than 31.5 million PSLs every year.
PSLs don’t come cheap — you’ll pay $5.45 to $5.95 for a grande, depending on the location, according to CNN. Of course, other coffee companies have followed suit, seeing dollar signs and offering their own variation on the PSL: Dunkin’, Peet’s Coffee and Tim Horton’s, to name a few.
Pumpkin spice is so ubiquitous now that Forbes describes it as “the pumpkin spice industrial complex,” and it has done nothing but increase in popularity.
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Why Is It So Popular?
Those who love their pumpkin spice don’t think twice about it, but naysayers might wonder what’s so fancy about a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice that drives people so wild.
Kelly Haws, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University who understands consumers’ food decision-making, told Fast Company that the flavor is associated with positive memories for people “around family, the holidays and the fall.” The holidays are also when we tend to indulge our sweet tooth, and PSLs, at least, offer plenty of that.
Its popularity might also stem from the short seasonal window in which the flavor is offered, Kara Nielsen, a trendologist for the food and beverage industry, told Cooking Light.
It’s Probably Here To Stay
Whether it trends because of true love for the flavor, from a psychological trick of supply and demand, or its cozy holiday associations, Fast Company predicts the popularity will not ebb any time soon. The research firm Tastewise told Fast Company that consumer interest in pumpkin spice products grew by a hefty 45% between October 2019 and October 2020. And, in that same period, “menu mentions” for those products increased by 221% nationwide.
Not surprising, food and beverage companies are rolling out their pumpkin-spice products earlier than ever to meet consumer demand, according to a report from MarketScale. Krispy Kreme, 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, all introduced their 2022 pumpkin-spice products in early and mid August.
Love it or hate it, you can time the start of fall with the first steaming PSL of the season — which, for the most diehard fans, came on Aug. 30 this year.
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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.