OPINIONMarketing

Enough with pumpkin spice already

Fall doesn’t officially arrive until Saturday, but pumpkin started flooding menus way back in the beginning of August. Have Americans had their fill yet?
pumpkin exploding
Pumpkin spice started exploding on menus in early August and items continue to trickle in. | Image courtesy of Nico Hines.

I’ve been writing about pumpkin spice since the beginning of August, when 7-Eleven gave customers their first taste of PSL and was quickly followed by Krispy Kreme. Dunkin’ and Starbucks joined in later in the month, expanding their menus to include even more pumpkin-flavored beverages and food for 2023.

I’m okay with these PSL pioneers capitalizing on their best-selling seasonal items. So is most of America. In fact, fans welcome the flavor’s return with great anticipation and aren’t shy about showing their love. According to recent online readership data compiled by tech platform Taboola:

• 83% more people are interested in PSLs this year compared to 2022

• The term “pumpkin spice latte” saw the biggest spike in readership on Aug. 24, when Starbucks released its PSL and fall menu. Pageviews more than doubled from 347K (the peak after Dunkin’ debut on Aug. 16) to 706K

• Being the first to enter the PSL race doesn’t guarantee a win. On Aug. 1, when 7-Eleven unveiled the drink, there was no boost in interest compared to last year.

The pumpkin spice effect

pumpkin mentions

Source: Taboola


I have nothing against pumpkin spice. I usually order a Starbucks PSL once a season, customizing it with one pump of syrup, not two. I find the standard recipe much too sweet. And I bake a mean pumpkin muffin and pumpkin chiffon pie.

What I do object to is the way every concept jumps on the bandwagon once they see a menu item or flavor taking off. Nearly every coffee and breakfast chain I cover has put pumpkin spice on the menu.

Granted, the drinks are getting more complex. There’s a Nitro Pumpkin Latte and Pumpkin White Mocha from Caribou Coffee, a boozy Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew at Another Broken Egg and a Pumpkin Coffee High Protein smoothie at Smoothie King.

Not to mention platters of pumpkin pancakes at IHOP, Denny’s and Eggs Up Grill, and dozens of pumpkin-flavored donuts, muffins, breadsticks, pasta dishes, frozen yogurt cups and even martinis.

I admit I’m suffering from a bit of pumpkin fatigue, and Halloween is still more than a month away. But when I visited my local Trader Joe’s over the weekend and was bombarded by a whole section of the store devoted solely to pumpkin spice products, I gave in and bought a bag of pumpkin spice pretzels. They won out over the pumpkin spice tortilla chips and cereal.

Other curious editors on the Restaurant Business team also confessed to giving in. They stirred pumpkin spice creamer into coffee, purchased TJ’s pumpkin spice scones and tried Wendy’s new Pumpkin Spice Frosty.

The global market value for pumpkin spice products is estimated to reach $1.1 billion in 2023, projected Future Market Insights, the market research company. And many of the RB staff contributed.

I’m sure consumers, operators and CPG companies would be very disappointed in a season without pumpkin spice. I guess I would be too. But I would like to see a little more originality on fall menus instead of a slew of copycat items.

And does the world really need pumpkin spice scented candles, soap and trash bags?  

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