Pumpkin Spice Becomes Pumpkin on Ice: The Impact of Climate Change on Seasonal Joy

Pumpkin Spice Becomes Pumpkin on Ice: The Impact of Climate Change on Seasonal Joy

September 5, 2023
5 min read

It’s that time of year when the desire for a fall favorite overpowers physical seasonal shifts. That’s right, pumpkin spice is back before the first fall leaf has even hit the ground. Traditionally associated with cozy warmth, pumpkin spice is notably being delivered on ice this year. Climate change and its coinciding weather patterns are notable undertones to this year’s seasonal fall flavor blitz. This ultimately raises the question of how this will impact the delivery of seasonal comforts and if the emotional side of seasonality is powerful enough to overcome consumers’ anxieties around shifting weather patterns.

The tangible: Weather patterns can take a toll on wellbeing 

Weather impacts everyone’s well-being differently, but collectively it shapes both physical and mental health. Mintel data on healthy lifestyles in Canada reveals that nearly 6 in 10 Canadian adults agree that weather takes a toll on their wellbeing and that increases to nearly 8 in 10 among Canadian women aged 18-34. It’s important to note that young women are also the core demographic for seasonal flavors, and US data on foodservice coffee notes that nearly 3 in 10 women who order coffee away from home are motivated by limited edition offerings compared to 2 in 10  men. With women being a core target for seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice, it’s important for brands to prepare for how changing weather patterns might impact their seasonal flavor preferences

With air quality issues on the rise and heat becoming more extreme, brands will have to get disruptive in how they deliver comforting experiences to people in new ways. Exploring pandemic-era strategies could offer inspiration. With indoor dining off limits during the pandemic, restaurants embraced creativity with outdoor opportunities. Now spaces might have to take the opposite approach and consider how indoor spaces can promote seasonal comfort, whether that’s through air filters that smell like a fall orchard or fitness centers leveraging saunas and cold plunges to offer temperature-controlled well-being benefits.

The emotional: Pumpkin is an aesthetic as much as it’s a flavor

This year, Starbucks is celebrating 20 years of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the drink that many consider the inception of the pumpkin spice craze. In a blog from Starbucks, they highlight the origin story of this beloved drink and within the blog, Starbucks highlights the key factor that turned a comforting treat into a cultural moment. Following the limited release of the beverage in the fall of 2003, the company expanded the drink to a wider base and by the next fall, Pumpkin Spice Latte (nicknamed PSL) rolled out across the US and Canada. Then Facebook and Twitter arrived in 2006, and customers began sharing their love for PSL on social media pushing the pumpkin obsession to a new level, and setting the tone for various brands and retailers to join the pumpkin spice momentum.

Source: Starbucks

In the twenty years since Starbucks’ PSL made its debut, the world has seen the rise of social media, the great recession and a global pandemic.  All of these experiences set the stage for Mintel’s 2023 Global Consumer Trend , Hyper Fatigue. With anxiety, burnout and stress all part of everyday emotions for consumers, there is greater appeal for a comforting seasonal beverage that holds more weight from an emotional perspective. It’s no longer just a beloved fall beverage that we see consumers romanticizing, with Gen Z women specifically embracing a wide variety of aesthetics, from Tomato Girl Summer to Girl Dinner and more. This creates both a challenge and opportunity for the Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the world. 

As daydream aesthetics become more normalized across every season and activity, the novelty of pumpkin spice could decline without innovation. However, the opportunity for pumpkin spice exists with younger consumers having a sense of nostalgia for experiences they’ve heard about but didn’t necessarily experience the first time around. With pumpkin season kicking off earlier and earlier every year, today’s youngest consumers are likely not going to experience the same fall that older consumers experienced, which is already evident by the rise of iced pumpkin spice drinks. This could create a desire for a fall that they’ve heard about, but might not experience the same way. Brands as a result will have to rely on sensory marketing to maintain the emotional aesthetic of pumpkin spice, even as the seasonal shifts become more disruptive. 

What we think:

NASA confirmed that the global average temperature for July 2023 was the hottest on record and that extreme heat is creating demand for the fall “cool down” in a more profound way. The digital space has evolved in such a way that consumers are now accustomed to living in two realities. While for many individuals their outside reality still feels like a hot summer day, their social feeds have already switched into a fall mode. We can anticipate these two worlds to become even more disparate as heat lingers well into the typical fall markers. Brands will have to find the right balance to meet consumers in the middle and deliver the seasonal joy they will be craving even more strongly than before. 

Diana Kelter
Diana Kelter

Diana is an Associate Director of Consumer Trends, focusing on North America. Diana joined Mintel as a foodservice analyst before moving to the Trends team. Her role on Trends is a combination of analyzing data and pairing it with global brand monitoring, to determine where macro trends take shape.

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