Food

Customers are apparently all-in on Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte this year

Traffic has surged this year following the introduction of the coffee giant's fall lineup last month, according to the data firm Placer.ai. And one of the biggest reasons is the day of the week the lineup was launched.
Starbucks pumpkin spice
Starbucks' pumpkin spice products, such as its original latte, apparently are driving more traffic to the chain than ever. | Photo courtesy of Starbucks.

Starbucks’ launch of its Pumpkin Spice Latte has apparently been as popular as ever this year, and one reason is the day of the week the company launched the product.

Traffic on the day the Seattle-based coffee giant launched the product, Aug. 24, was up 25.1% this year compared with launch day in 2017, according to the data firm Placer.ai.

By contrast, traffic last year at the chain was up 6.8% the day of the launch when compared with 2017, according to the firm.

One key difference: Starbucks launched its product on Tuesday last year. This year, the chain launched its fall lineup on Thursday.

Indeed, this year was the most successful launch of Starbucks’ fall lineup in years, Placer.ai said, despite potentially shaky consumer budgets and concern about spending. Placer.ai measures the chain’s traffic when compared with Sept. 5, 2017, the day the Pumpkin Spice Latte returned that year.

Traffic on launch day had been on an upward swing before the pandemic before plunging 17.6% in 2020. Traffic growth has returned in subsequent years, but this one was by far the strongest day over that period.

This was the 20th year that Starbucks has launched its Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL as its fans call it. The chain began working on the beverage in its “Liquid Lab” in spring 2003, testing the product in 100 stores that fall. The beverage made its permanent debut the next year, the second major seasonal beverage on the chain’s menu, following the Peppermint Mocha.

The introduction has become an annual event. It has made pumpkin-flavored beverages a must-have throughout the coffee sector, while chains in other sectors along with retail food and beverage brands have jumped on board.

This year, pumpkin spice flavors started showing up on retail shelves as soon as late July while restaurant brands like Krispy Kreme and numerous independent concepts introduced their products well before the traditional start time of “pumpkin spice season.” None of that appeared to have any impact on the popularity of Starbucks’ own introduction, however.

Placer.ai noted that traffic on the Saturday after the introduction of the PSL was up 41% compared with the average of the previous 10 Saturdays. By contrast, in 2022 traffic on the first Saturday was up slightly less than 30%.

Starbucks has long thrived by “owning the calendar,” Placer notes. For instance, earlier in the summer it started offering its Starbucks Rewards loyalty members half off cold drinks on Wednesdays, which it called “WinsDays,” which helped drive traffic during an otherwise dead day of the week.

The company has also pushed cold drinks much more in recent years with its fall lineup. It added the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew starting in 2019. By the next year it was the top-selling beverage in the lineup, besting even the PSL. Cold beverages now account for more than 70% of Starbucks’ beverage sales.

This year, Starbucks pushed into the tea category with the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte, featuring pumpkin cream cold foam and a dusting of pumpkin spice along with spiced chai.

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