It seems that every year, more fall activities creep in before Labor Day. More and more schools start early. And this year, Starbucks released the Pumpkin Spice Latte three days before Labor Day weekend, the earliest in the drink’s 15 year history.
It was 94 degrees in New York City on August 28, this year’s release date for the Pumpkin Spice Latte (aka the PSL). The temperature had no impact on Starbucks’ decision to release the seasonal drink that day. Rather, it was the money.
Fifteen years after its introduction, PSL is now a $100 million per year revenue generator for the coffee company. Some of that comes from the drink itself, but the chain has also found that PSL drinkers spend more per visit at Starbucks than their non-PSL customers. It is a crucial part of fall sales. It propelled September to the fourth busiest month at Starbucks. December, which leads, is fueled by purchases of gift cards as well as coffee and snacks. November and October are second and third.
The demand for pumpkin almost-everything is strong. One look through a grocery store – and in nearly any aisle including personal care, pet food, and air fresheners and cleaners – shows it’s not just Starbucks seeing an uptick in sales for pumpkin flavors. Even brands like IHOP jumped on the PSL train:
For the week ending August 25 – a week that ended before this year’s PSL release – sales of products with pumpkin spice building blocks allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg are above the previous three month average, but sales of products feature other typically fall flavors, like maple and cinnamon, are still hovering at their annual average.
The success of PSL has resulted in a sales lift for a slew of pumpkin-flavored other things. The range is shocking. Pie filling, liquid coffee flavoring, cereal and baked goods shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, even if pumpkin-flavored Twinkies do sound like a national health crisis.
As Starbucks has seen with their PSL fans being more frequent customers and bigger spenders, the trend is seen in other products as well. Fans of pumpkin flavor are a profitable group. The NPD Group reports 29% of pumpkin spice customers make more than one purchase of it in the season, visit retailers selling pumpkin products more often, and spend 10% more per visit than others.
The second-largest category of pumpkin-infused flavored goods, based on revenue? Dog food. Really. $110M in revenue in the last 52 weeks.
This ad for dog food brand Nature’s Recipe is subtle in its pumpkin push, with only a pumpkin photo on the product shot at the end of the spot. This spot has aired 865 times this season.
At least one marketer pushed back on the trend and it didn’t go well. In 2015, Budweiser declared itself “Proudly a Macro Beer” in a Super Bowl ad. The text went on to say “let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” Users of social media pounced on the brand before the game was over, criticizing the company that had been buying craft breweries in recent years.
For those less PSL-inclined, Eater curated a list of 65 products that have no business being pumpkin spiced, and it’s great for a laugh as well as some shock value.