Diana Kelter
Diana is a Senior Trend Analyst at Mintel. She investigates how cultural, lifestyle and technology shifts take shape across sectors and leverages Mintel data across trend observations.

With more seasonal flavors gaining popularity on a year-long basis, pumpkin remains a truly seasonal ingredient at the start of every fall. In fact, a third of US Millennials have consumed a hot specialty coffee in the past three months and 13% of consumers overall add flavored syrups to their coffee or tea, according to Mintel’s 2017 Coffee and Tea Tracker. For coffee houses and QSRs, the buzz surrounding pumpkin flavored beverages is starting earlier in an attempt to build consumer excitement.

Pumpkin season stays relevant despite more competition

While Starbucks is the original leader of the signature Pumpkin Spice Latte, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s strive to compete for market share of the signature seasonal offering with versions of their own. The big three face the challenge of building continued excitement around the legacy drink every fall. In 2017, Dunkin’ Donuts was the first chain to officially announce the release date of August 28 for their signature pumpkin drinks. However, Starbucks looked past their coffeehouses in 2017 to announce the launch of a RTD pumpkin spice latte for retail and pumpkin spice flavored ground coffee in late August, with the release date of the coffeehouse PSL remaining under wraps.

Starbucks continued to build excitement, as well as confusion, during the Labor Day weekend as to when the PSL would officially arrive. While some Starbucks stores promoted the return of the PSL over the holiday weekend and numerous consumers posted about getting their hands on one, the chain did not promote the drink as officially being available. The coffee chain created a Facebook Live stream that consumers could tune into to see when the PSL would officially make its debut, and on September 5 the beverage was officially made available at Starbucks nationwide. The chain also added a Teavana Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte offering to menu, which the chain credits with consumer customization preferences over the years. Meanwhile, McDonald’s released its pumpkin spice latte on August 31, leading into Labor Day weekend, without a significant amount of media buzz.

What we think

Mintel’s US report on seasonal dining trends shows that two in five consumers are interested in seasonal coffee drinks. Few seasonal drinks manage to create as much buzz as pumpkin, and while a majority of food and beverage trends fade in and out, pumpkin consistently remains high in demand every fall, noting 29% growth in menu mentions from Q4 2015-Q4 2016, according to Mintel Menu Insights.

However, operators have a fine line to maintain when it comes to releasing pumpkin flavored products earlier and earlier every year. With pumpkin season often lasting well into November, before holiday flavors take center stage, operators risk building up excitement too early without being able to sustain it through the fall season. In addition, the novelty of pumpkin being a true seasonal treat is a key component of the craving for it and operators have to maintain that seasonality without losing their edge to the competition.