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The Proliferation of Pumpkin Spice: Has the Trend Gone Too Far?

by Shawna Lent
October 10, 2019

It’s that time of the year again: We are firmly back in pumpkin spice’s grip.

Back in August, before kids went back to school and a full month before the fall season officially started, Starbucks and Dunkin’ dropped their respective pumpkin-spiced products.

And these two chains weren’t just stocking the now-expected and eagerly anticipated pumpkin spice latte. This year, they introduced new products: Starbucks released a pumpkin cream cold brew and Dunkin’ a slew of items, including a new pumpkin spice donut, a pumpkin spice lip balm, and a compelling pumpkin spice rival: the cinnamon sugar pumpkin latte.

It’s been 13 years since the seasonal latte was introduced to coffee fanatics around the country. By Forbes estimates, this bestselling beverage has made Starbucks $100 million. And, according to Nielsen, the trend is bigger than ever: Sales of pumpkin spice products have grown by 79% since 2011, totaling $361 million.

But coffee companies aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the craze. You can follow the scent of pumpkin spice directly down a rabbit hole of products like  pumpkin spice Cheerios, pumpkin roll ice cream, pumpkin spice pecans, pumpkin spice salsa, pumpkin spice butter, pumpkin spice bagels, pumpkin spice Jell-O, to name just a few.

Does Pumpkin Spice Belong in Everything?

Some (read: us) could argue the introduction of pumpkin spice Spam is the final straw in a trend that’s remained beloved in the eyes of consumers and maintained downright baffling longevity in the market.

“It’s been 13 years since the seasonal latte was introduced to coffee fanatics around the country. By Forbes estimates, this bestselling beverage has made Starbucks $100 million. And, according to Nielsen, the trend is bigger than ever: Sales of pumpkin spice products have grown by 79% since 2011, totaling $361 million.”

Some could also argue that writing an article on pumpkin spice is about as basic as the trend itself, but we couldn’t help ourselves after discovering the abomination that is the Spam. The canned meat product — inspired by a viral fake in 2017 — actually went public with the real thing this year.

We used Alpha to answer some pressing questions: Will the deluge of pumpkin-spice products dilute consumers’ excitement and ultimately kill the fall trend, or is pumpkin spice here to stay?

Has the Trend Gone Too Far, or Not Far Enough?

When consumers were asked to provide their opinion on the pumpkin spice trend, the responses were more positive than negative, with nearly 50% having a positive or extremely positive impression. The majority still embrace the fall favorite:

The pumpkin spice trend has neither gone too far or far enough; it is just about right.

I think not far enough! I love the flavor and would like to see more of it!

I like the taste of pumpkin spice and it a good representation of the fall and holiday season.

I love pumpkin spice flavors that are available for a limited time. It lets you know that the holidays are starting.

Though some are definitely not in favor:

It’s gone almost too far! Rice Krispies Treats and Pop Tarts are the most recent I’ve seen, and both are basically junk food, and I don’t think children are all that crazy about pumpkin spice!

I think it’s pretty much maxed out on the weird factor, but I’m sure they’ll come up with more stuff. I’m still waiting for pumpkin spice hotdogs and chicken nuggets to be introduced.

I love pumpkin spice, but it has been ruined by putting it into everything.

Because they have made too many items pumpkin spice flavored and some things are meant to be only in their original form.

Pumpkin Spice Products: Where Do Consumers Draw the Line?

Given that so many consumers weren’t in favor of the flavor because it’s too prevalent and too strange, we asked the same group of consumers which pumpkin spice flavored products they think went too far. What should or should not be pumpkin spice flavored, according to them?

The results showed that beverages, baked goods, and breakfast foods are welcome additions. Outside of that, consumers are not at all interested in the wackier offerings or novelties like pumpkin spice flavored pet food, alcohol, or toiletries.

What’s the Next Potential Fall Flavor Trend?

Nearly 70% of respondents said that fall is the appropriate time to start consuming pumpkin spice food and drinks. Consumers say they associate the flavor profile with fall scents, colors, traditions and holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

But plenty of flavor profiles can be associated with fall: Consider fall flavor heavyweights like cinnamon, apple cider, maple, salted caramel, pecan, and butternut squash. Why does pumpkin spice get all the fanfare? We asked respondents what flavors they most prefer, and what they’d like to see next in products.

Will cinnamon and apple cider — or the delicious combination of the two — make a comeback in the hearts, minds, and tastebuds of consumers?

In the meantime, it looks like pumpkin spice isn’t being knocked from the top spot anytime soon, though we can’t imagine pumpkin spice Spam is flying off the shelves. Like it or not, nearly 40% of consumers purchased a pumpkin-flavored item last year. But maybe there’s an end in sight: According to Google Trends data, searches for ‘pumpkin spice latte’ begin in earnest in late August, peak in September, and dip in October. The search term was most popular in 2018, and so far in 2019 there are half as many searches as last year.

Shawna Lent

Head of Content at Alpha, the platform that enables management teams to make data-driven decisions about users, products, and new markets.