Commentary

Pumpkin Spice Season Falls Upon Us


I hate pumpkin spice (PS).

There. I said it. Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin pie, but the only thing I want to taste like pumpkin pie IS pumpkin pie.

From PS popcorn to PS Oreos, PS dog cologne to PS hand soap, beginning in July Pumpkin Spice is now EVERYWHERE and no longer relegated to latte/coffee/QSR holiday territory. There is no escape.

Despite all the hoopla surrounding the summer release of fall-themed PS products (including Pumpkin Spice lattes, aka PSL), the early buzz may not necessarily result in a big boost in early sales for coffee chains, according to recent data from Affinity Solutions, which shows that the December holidays remain the main financial driver at both Dunkin' and Starbucks.

According to data collected from August 2019 to December 2022 from Affinity Solutions’ Consumer Purchase Insights, based on actual credit card, debit card and transaction data, the majority of spending at Dunkin’ and Starbucks takes place in November and December. This is especially true for Starbucks, with more affluent ($80K+ income) and older adults (ages 52+) spending the most there during the holiday months.

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And while this may be true over the coming months pre-holiday, the launch of PSL caused quite the stir at Starbucks late last month. Placer.ai, which specializes in location analytics and foot traffic data, today reported the huge immediate lift in Starbucks traffic upon the PSL launch on August 24.

According to the report, compared to June 1, 2023, as a baseline, visits on August 24 were up more than 26%. In the following days – August 25, 26, and 27 – visits were up 52.9%, 73.7%, and 59.4%, respectively.

The report notes there may be some pent-up PSL demand following the pandemic this year, as this year’s fall menu rollout drove a 25.1% increase in visits on the day of the launch (compared to the 2017 PSL launch visits).

And as for the now thousands of PS-flavored/scented NON-coffee products in retail, market researcher NielsenIQ reports U.S. sales of retail pumpkin-flavored products reached $803 million for the 52-week period ending in late July 2023, which accounts for a nearly 15% increase from the prior 52-week period.

Yet as far as per unit sales, meaning the number of PS products purchased, they are down by 1.5% for the 52-week period ending in late July, for the second year in a row. And despite the thousands of PS products in market, the number is actually lower per NielsenIQ, which counted 3,072 products over the 52-week period ending in late July.

A few years before, that figure was 3,213 (not including coffee shops).

So, needless to say Pumpkin Spice-everything will be filling my inbox for the foreseeable future. Where’s the peppermint mocha love? Pretty sure that’s next.

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