Starbucks will start selling its fall menu on Tuesday, anchored by the Pumpkin Spice Latte, which the chain has been offering at this time of year for nearly two decades.
Few annual menu releases generate quite this much attention or have spawned quite this many copycats—pumpkin-flavored items can be found at a wide range of chains, which you can see by reading my colleague Pat Cobe’s “Taste Tracker” column.
Yet it’s become arguably the clearest sign of fall in the restaurant industry as it shifts toward Back-to-School and then the holiday season.
Here are a few notable tidbits about the beverage.
It is a big seller
The PSL and its ilk are big sellers for Starbucks, which is probably obvious given that there are videos and memes about women who start dressing for fall around this time of year purely based on the pumpkin flavor.
The PSL gives Starbucks a jumpstart on the most important part of the year for the chain. Starbucks’ revenues are more than 5% higher on average in the last three months of the year, at least based on recent years’ data.
While Starbucks starts selling the PSL one month before that, it is still an important product that gets customers in the mood for the holiday season. Even if it is hot and humid outside.
The pandemic might have improved those sales
It’s possible that years of being shut inside our homes have only increased the impact of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Bloomberg Second Measure last year noted that sales in 2021 increased 10% the week of the PSL launch
That was up from 8% in 2020 and 6% in 2019. “In the current environment, customers are looking for a taste of something familiar,” former CFO Patrick Grismer told analysts in 2020, according to a transcript from the financial services firm Sentieo.
But cold brew is now king
While this is PSL season, in reality it’s probably Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew season.
Starbucks began selling its Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew in 2019. The product began outselling the PSL in 2020.
That highlights a surprising and remarkable shift for the chain: Seventy percent of Starbucks’ beverage sales now come from cold beverages, rather than hot beverages. That helps explain why more chains are offering their pumpkin products earlier.
It keeps adding items for retail
Much like the fall highlights Starbucks’ move to cold beverages, it also highlights the growing number of items it is selling at retail.
While restaurants have been eager adopters of pumpkin-flavored products, retail companies have taken the trend to a new level with pumpkin-flavored everything. And Starbucks’ growing presence on retail aisles is a clear sign of that this year.
The coffee giant will start selling canned versions of its Nitro Cold Brew Pumpkin Cream. It is also selling Salted Mocha Flavored Roast and Ground Coffee. That’s on top of PSL creamers, including almondmilk and oatmilk versions as well as PSL iced espresso in bottles.
It will indeed be more expensive
Chains have been raising prices and Starbucks is no exception. The company has raised its prices by about 5% over the past year, which is actually less than the 7% average for limited-service restaurants over that period.
It makes sense that the prices would go up more. The company is “not currently seeing any measurable reduction in customer spending,” Interim CEO Howard Schultz told investors. With margins contracting by 250 basis points last quarter, and its costs expected to accelerate this period, it would be reasonable to expect higher prices this period.
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