pumpkin spice

From Lattes to Doughnuts for Dogs – A Look at All Things Pumpkin Spice 2023

Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman
dog pumpkin spice
Even dogs get in on the fall fun at Krispy Kreme. Photo credit: Krispy Kreme

It’s the end of August, which can only mean one thing. Pumpkin spice is back. 

Before every child has walked through the doors for their first day of school, all things pumpkin have ushered in the unofficial end of summer.

On August 24, Starbucks’ fall menu returned to celebrate the coffee retailer’s 20th anniversary of its Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). Two days later, Krispy Kreme rolled out its new Pup’kin Spice Doggie Doughnuts (doughnut-shaped biscuits for dogs available through Aug. 31). 

In the last 20 years, Starbucks has served “hundreds of millions” of PSLs (more than 424 million the company said in 2019)  in the U.S. During this time the demand for pumpkin spice products and other fall flavors has produced an American staple, as synonymous with fall as falling leaves and football. In the year ending July 29, U.S. sales of pumpkin-flavored products reached $802.5 million, up 42% from the same period in 2019, according to Nielsen, the AP reports

pumpkin spice starbucks sign
A Starbucks in Nutley, NJ, greets customers with a sign for the coffee retailer’s 20th anniversary of its Pumpkin Spice Latte. Photo credit: Jamie Goodman.

So how did a coffee retailer change fall for millions of Americans? Before Starbucks first launched the PSL in 2003, the retailer was looking for another hit for the autumn season to rival the success of its Peppermint Mocha. Peter Dukes, who led the Starbucks espresso beverage team at the time, said the team whittled away a list down to about 20 different flavors, including chocolate and caramel, which reliably performed best when customers were asked what flavors they were likely to purchase in a written survey. But pumpkin scored high on “uniqueness” and thus moved forward to exploration in the “Liquid Lab,” a secure research and development space on the 7th floor of Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. 

“Within the first week of the market test, we knew we had a winner,” Dukes said. It wasn’t until Facebook and Twitter arrived in 2006 that the beverage “just took off on a whole new level.”

“The pumpkin spice trend benefits from the consumer’s love of celebrations and small indulgences,” Elizabeth Lafontaine, EnsembleIQ Chief Retail Analyst, tells RIS. “Consumers are always looking for reasons to celebrate and welcome a new season, which creates patterns of consumption that are easy to follow and develop products around. Consumers like pumpkin spice because it allows them to engage with the season without too much of an investment. The popularity of pumpkin spice during the fall season also reflects the desire of shoppers to create a sense of belonging and participate in the larger cultural conversation with those around them.”

Over the years, as pumpkin spice has become ubiquitous with fall, it has left retailers and consumer goods manufacturers with the task of coming up with new products to quench the thirst for fall flavors. 

chobani pumpkin
Chobani introduced Chobani Oatmilk Pumpkin Spice, a pumpkin spice flavored oat drink on Aug. 14.  Photo credit: Chobani

This year Starbucks launched two new seasonal beverages: Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso and Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte. In addition to dog treats, Krispy Kreme kicked off the season with new Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Swirl Doughnuts and Pumpkin Spice Maple Pecan Doughnuts on Aug. 7. Greek yogurt maker Chobani introduced Chobani Oatmilk Pumpkin Spice, a pumpkin spice flavored oat drink on Aug. 14. 

"Fall beverages are in demand earlier than ever this year, and in true Chobani fashion, we're continuing to bring newness and excitement to this highly anticipated time of year by welcoming limited-edition Chobani Oatmilk Pumpkin Spice to our robust seasonal line-up," said Chobani CIO Niel Sandfort.  

It’s true that fall beverages are launching even earlier than ever, and with August rollouts and hotter weather, some retailers are adding more iced options. Restaurant chain IHOP for example, added a new Pumpkin Spice Cold Foam Cold Brew this year (100% Arabica Iced Cold Brew sweetened with vanilla and topped with a pumpkin spice creamy cold foam).

7-11 pumpkin
7-Eleven, Inc., rolled out its fall lineup on the first day of August this year. Photo credit: 7-Eleven, Inc.

As for timing, 7-Eleven, Inc., rolled out its fall lineup to select 7-Eleven, Speedway, and Stripes stores across the U.S. on the first day of August this year. For anyone unaware, the first day of fall is September 23. 

"We know our customers wait all year long for their favorite fall flavors…so we decided to break out the pumpkin a little bit early this year," said Dennis Phelps, 7-Eleven's SVP, Merchandising (Vault & Proprietary Beverages). "It may not quite feel like fall outside yet, but it sure can taste like fall as we enjoy the first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season."

Two weeks later, Dunkin’s reintroduced its pumpkin line-up on August 16, including its Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte, Nutty Pumpkin Coffee, and Pumpkin bakery line-up. 

“Brands and retailers rely on the seasonality of flavors like pumpkin spice to drive demand and create a fear of missing out amongst consumers,” notes Lafontaine. “Using flavors as limited time offers and promotions isn’t necessarily a new concept, but the popularity and vitality of pumpkin spice has taken seasonal marketing to the next level. Data and consumer insights are incredibly important in understanding the longevity of a trend and in product development around seasonality.”


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