Pumpkin spice season is clearly moving into summer. Restaurant software and payments provider PlaceOn saw a 2,200% increase in pumpkin items on its independent customers’ outlet menus from July 1 to August 7.
During this period, SpotOn reports that these restaurant customers added more than 602 pumpkin-based menu items. Of these, 65% were drinks: 27% beer, wine, 20% cocktails, 13% coffee and 4% tea.
We can thank Starbucks for starting and fueling the national pumpkin spice obsession. The coffee chain launched its Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) 20 years ago, and the specialty drink came to mark the unofficial start of fall for many customers.
According to its website, Starbucks wanted to create another seasonal hit in 2003 following the success of its Peppermint Mocha the previous winter. After months of R&D, Starbucks’ espresso drinks team developed the PSL, which is now the chain’s most popular seasonal drink.
Here are five things to remember from the PSL phenomenon.
- Uniqueness matters. While Starbucks’ customer research showed that chocolate and caramel drinks were most likely to perform the best, the pumpkin got a high score on “uniqueness”. The espresso drinks team got to work, developing and refining a recipe that brought out the pumpkin pie flavors that best complemented the coffee.
- Consider the names carefully. Peter Dukes, who led Starbucks’ espresso drinks team at the time, said he wanted to choose a unique name, such as fall harvest latte. “We ultimately settled on Pumpkin Spice Latte because the spices play a very important role in bringing out the flavors of the pumpkin, while also highlighting the espresso in the cup.”
- Timing is everything. Starbucks typically rolls out its fall menu on a Tuesday, location analytics provider says Placer, but the channel released PSL this year on August 24 – a Thursday. The proximity to the weekend may have contributed to a 25.1% increase in visits on launch day, the largest increase in recent years.
- Social media is important. While the PSL was a success from the start, Dukes said Starbucks was tempted to abandon the specialty drink, just to keep things new and fresh. However, that wasn’t the case, and when Facebook and Twitter came along in 2006 and customers started sharing their love for PSL on social media, “it just took it to a whole new level.”
- Continue to innovate. People are clearly passionate about PSL, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also want to see new and different items on the menu. Starbucks added an Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte, inspired by a popular customer and barista customization, and a Glazed Apple Crisp Oat Milk Shake Espresso to the fall lineup this year. Starbucks Reserve locations in the United States introduced the Starbucks Reserve Pumpkin Spice Latte and a full fall menu, including a new Pumpkin Spice Whiskey Barrel-Aged Iced Latte and a Pumpkin Spice Espresso Martini.