Pumpkin spice season gets off to an earlier start every year

Companies like Dunkin', Krispy Kreme, 7-Eleven and Jamba are getting a jump on fall by introducing their products with the iconic flavor earlier than ever. Why the rush?
Pumpkin spice season
Animation by Nico Heins via Shutterstock

Nineteen years ago, Starbucks introduced Pumpkin Spice Latte to the world and the flavor has since pushed the start of fall back into the dog days of August.

Starbucks has not yet revealed when it would return PSL to the lineup this year, although social media buzz points to Aug. 30 as the launch date. In 2021, the beverage made its debut on Aug. 23.

In an email request to Starbucks’ media team earlier this week, Restaurant Business received this reply: “Thank you for the note. We do not have any details to share on our fall menu. I’ll follow up when I have more to share.”

But other chains were eager to beat out the coffee giant and have already made the move.

7-Eleven's PSL

7-Eleven was first to launch Pumpkin Spice Latte on Aug. 5. / Photo courtesy of 7-Eleven

7-Eleven was first out of the gate, bringing back its Pumpkin Spice Latte and Pumpkin Spice Coffee on Aug. 5 for the “unofficial” start of fall. “Channel your flannel” was the C-store’s pitch, as temperatures continued to hit record highs across the country and summer vacationers were cooling off on the beach.

Krispy Kreme followed on Aug. 8, saying in a statement: “Krispy Kreme is giving you pumpkin’ to talk about with the earlier than ever release of our Pumpkin Spice Collection. We are bringing you Pumpkin Spice eight different ways—giving you a whole latte more to enjoy!”

In addition to two coffee drinks—classic PSL and the new Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee—the flavor is trending in four seasonal doughnuts. There’s a Pumpkin Spice Latte Swirl Doughnut, Pumpkin Spice Original Glazed, Pumpkin Spice Cake Doughnut and Pumpkin Spice Original Filled Cheesecake Doughnut.

Krispy Kreme pumpkin doughnuts

Krispy Kreme's pumpkin doughnuts come in four varieties. / Photo courtesy of Krispy Kreme

“Sure, pumpkin spice is generally associated with fall, but true fans of the flavor will agree that August is close enough,” said Dave Skena, Krispy Kreme Global Chief Brand OfficerSo, we’re pulling fall forward, enabling our guests to indulge and enjoy early with delicious pumpkin spice doughnuts and drinks, including our Pumpkin Spice Latte, which you can get iced or frozen, by the way.”

Dunkin’ announced Wednesday that it’s pumpkin-flavored items would launch Aug. 17—two days earlier than last year.

“More and more each year, we see Dunkin’ fans’ anticipation and enthusiasm for the return of fall grow. This season, we’ve crafted a fall lineup to delight our most ardent and excited fall enthusiasts,” said Jill Nelson, VP, Marketing and Culinary at Dunkin’. “From our full-on passion for pumpkin to a totally new Blood Orange Dunkin’ Refresher, we are falling hard for a new season here at Dunkin’.” 

Dunkin’s 2022 pumpkin-forward menu includes Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew with Pumpkin Cream Cold Foam, the Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte (hot and iced) and a new Nutty Pumpkin Coffee. The latter is a blend of iced coffee with a hazelnut flavor shot, pumpkin spice swirl and cream. Pumpkin bakery items also return, including a glazed donut, Munchkins and a muffin.

dunkin pumpkin spice

Dunkin's signature hot Pumpkin Spice Latte./Photo courtesy of Dunkin'

At Brooklyn Center, Minn.-based Caribou Coffee, pumpkin spice season intentionally starts at the very end of August, said Gretchen Hashemi-Rad, beverage category manager for the brand.

“We feel good about our launch date, even though I personally know some people who would like it to start sooner. It’s one of those table stakes flavors now,” she said. “But you don’t want to be first, as some customers will say ‘come on, it’s still summer,’ and you don’t want to be last either.”

With most of Caribou Coffee’s 460 stores located in the Midwest, consumption of pumpkin beverages becomes “outrageous” when the weather starts turning a little cooler—around September, said Hashemi-Rad.

Caribou crafts its line of pumpkin cold brews, lattes and coffees with a sauce made with real pumpkin puree, and every year, the chain’s supplier has to produce more, she said. One of the more indulgent seasonal treats is the Pumpkin White Mocha, but the roster also includes the Pumpkin Crafted Press, Nitro Pumpkin Latte and Pumpkin Chai.

It’s not only the coffee concepts that are getting a jumpstart on fall. Jamba is bringing back its Classic Pumpkin Smash Smoothie and Plant-Based Pumpkin Smash Smoothie on Tuesday. Both feature Jamba’s spice mix of pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Pumpkin Smoothie

Jamba's Pumpkin Smash Smoothie comes back to the menu Aug. 16. / Photo courtesy of Jamba

And stay tuned for the annual return of Dairy Queen’s Pumpkin Pie Blizzard.

But diehard Starbucks fans who can’t wait until the end of the month can head to the grocery store now. Shelves at Target and other retailers are already stocked with Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Flavored Coffee, Pumpkin Cold Brew Concentrate and Iced Espresso Pumpkin Spice Latte.

There’s also a new pumpkin on the block: Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Nitro Cold Brew in a can.

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