Offer Pumpkin Spice and Everything Is Nice

Why the PSL trend is not exiting the scene any time soon.

September 09, 2021

Pumpkin Spice Coffee

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The autumn equinox is 12 days away, but fall has officially begun, if you count the arrival of pumpkin spice lattes (PSL) as the beginning of the season. Think the PSL trend is on its way out? Think again. According to Fast Company, the pumpkin spice latte “will never die,” which is good news for c-stores that have embraced the trendy flavor—and for those who haven’t.

Thinking about jumping on the semi-truck sized PSL bandwagon? Even though it seems as if pumpkin spice flavor is on every drink menu and grocery store shelf, there’s still plenty of room in the market space, as consumers refuse to let this trend go. Food trend research firm Tastewise told Fast Company that there was a 45% increase in consumer interest in pumpkin spice products between October 2019 and October 2020.

And it’s certainly a money-maker for Starbucks, which is synonymous with the pumpkin spice latte. In 2018, Starbucks sold $110 million worth of PSLs and credits the drink with contributing to strong earnings results.

One driver for consumers’ love of the PSL is its ability to create a feeling of nostalgia. “The flavor brings back positive memories for people around family, the holidays and the fall,” Kelly Haws, a Vanderbilt marketing professor who specializes in consumers’ food decision-making, told Fast Company.

She continues: “It’s also typically coupled with something sweet and fattening, and we have an innate need and desire for sugar and fat ...” Translation: retailers should pair their PSLs with a pastry or doughnut as an offer for customers, satisfying that sugar and fat craving.

One could argue that it’s not PSL season until Starbucks releases its pumpkin spice flavored menu items, which happens each year on the last Tuesday of August, though this year the company moved the release date up one week to August 24 to create a weeklong buffer between the release and the beginning of September.

Darren Siefer, a food and beverage industry analyst with The NPD Group, told Fast Company the extra week before September “makes sense” since back to school is associated with the beginning of fall. He said that back to school this year is a “big deal again” because more people were going back to school virtually last year.

Providing c-store customers with craft coffees like the pumpkin spice latte is a traffic driver to c-stores. It’s not easy to replicate a PSL at home, and convenience retailers can benefit from offering these types of specialty coffees. NACS Magazine covered craft coffee in the September 2021 issue.

Register to attend the 2021 NACS Show October 5-8, at McCormick Place in Chicago and take advantage of the education sessions on foodservice, including these sessions developed by retailers for retailers: