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A spicy phenomenon

By Karli Vezina

It's been 18 years since the first Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) graced the counters of Starbucks shops in 2003 and back then, they had no idea the behemoth they were about to awaken.

With the birth of Facebook in 2004 and Instagram in 2010, the PSL reached new heights of success as young'uns started filling their timelines with selfies of their new favourite coffee. The first 10 years of the PSL saw 200 million units sold and that number doubled itself in the following five years. All the while, Starbucks was spreading their pumpkin-infused coffees around the world and other companies like Tim Hortons and Dunkin Doughnuts jumped on the bandwagon.

Now, it seems like Starbucks and Walmart are in a race against time to see who can release fall merchandise sooner. This year, Starbucks may have won. Although the coffee giants usually reserve the last Tuesday in August for their PSL release, they dropped the festive drink last week. So, what's the big deal with this coffee?

Darren Siefer, a food and beverage industry analyst with market research company The NPD Group, said the timing is perfect as the concept of fall typically goes hand-in-hand with going back to school. Siefer told Fast Company back to school is "a big deal again" compared to last year when everyone was staying home. Colleges and universities are also seeing a return to life, "so it's another way to jump in on the back-to-school promotions," he said.

Nostalgia is also a major player in the PSL's success, according to Kelly Haws, a Vanderbilt marketing professor who specializes in consumers’ food decision-making. She told Fast Company the pumpkin pie spices remind people of fall, the holidays, and family. These feelings also entice us to want something sweet and fattening. No problem there! A 16oz PSL has 390 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Food trend research firm Tastewise reported a 45% increase in consumer interest in PSLs from October 2019 to October 2020 and pumpkin spice ingredients are appearing on menus countrywide at an increase of 221%.

With stats like these, it seems the Pumpkin Spice Latte will remain the leader of the caffeinated pack for a while yet.


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