Orange Crush: Do Consumers Still Love Pumpkin Spice Lattes?
By Dean Essner
Though autumn officially starts at the end of September, Starbucks rolled out its pumpkin spice latte this year on Aug. 27 — a day earlier than in 2018, and over a week earlier than in 2017.
Given the popularity of the PSL, which Starbucks began serving in 2003, this trend makes sense. In 2015, Forbes estimated that the drink rakes in around $100 million over the course of a single season. The sooner it comes back to Starbucks menus, the sooner the coffee chain can start selling one of its most lucrative drinks again.
In addition, by being secretive and strategic about the PSL’s exact return date, Starbucks can leverage its arrival as a national press moment. “Starbucks still gets a lot of media coverage for the PSL,” writes The Motley Fool’s Daniel B. Kline. “Bringing it out earlier creates a narrative beyond the basic idea that the seasonal item has returned.”
Despite this media attention, though, Kline speculates that an impetus for bringing back the PSL so soon is to spread out its slowly waning demand. According to 2018 data from location intelligence company Gravy Analytics, regular customers of the coffee chain didn’t visit their local Starbucks more frequently once the pumpkin spice latte was released; in fact, average daily foot traffic decreased by 2 percent.
Interest in pumpkin spice products overall appears to be on the decline, too. Analytics company 1010data found that, while pumpkin spice products available for purchase had risen by nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2016, sales went up only 21 percent.
Yet, even if our culture isn’t at peak pumpkin spice anymore, Starbucks’ PSL is still a cozy, fall treat that many look forward to each year. As marketing professor Bruce Clark says in a recent Forbes article, “When the world is crazy, a pumpkin spice latte is particularly comforting.”