The craze for the pumpkin spice latte (PSL) is hands down the most sought after limited time offering.


Since its inception at Starbucks, 13 years ago, there have been over 200 million pumpkin spice lattes sold. I have to admit, I don’t like the flavor of pumpkin in coffee! There I said it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate its incredible popularity and its massive role in food marketing. So I decide to explore.

Is it the flavor? Is it nostalgia about the return of fall?

Is it something to be excited about as we try to pull ourselves out of the end of summer/ back to school funk?


What is it about this combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger and occasionally real pumpkin; and what can marketers learn from it?


Once it was established that Starbucks was onto something (again), many other well-known brands jumped on the bandwagon. Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Kellogg’s and Trader Joe’s – just to name a few – offer their own versions of seasonal pumpkin spice products. However, none have been able to surpass the popularity surrounding the official Starbucks PSL.


So what makes the Pumpkin Spice Latte so irresistible?


  1. Limited Availability

    Customers know that the flavor is only available very short period of time, creating a sense of urgency around getting it. 72% of people only buy one latte per season; according to the market research firm NPD Group. But that 72% really adds up.


  1. Building Hype and Creating Demand

    Great marketers know teasing us early creates demand. By starting the conversation before the season starts anticipation builds and word of mouth starts to travel. For this years PSL launch, Starbucks sent an email to all of its rewards card members on September 1st with a link to get an early access pass. Although the “official” start of PSL season at Starbucks was on September 6th, if you were in the know, your barista would make it for you a week early. The idea of being an insider, created even more excitement around this limited edition beverage.


  1. Social Media Campaigns

    Starbucks and other successful brands know they have to capitalize on Social to really make an impact during this very short Season of Pumpkin.

    Starbucks has dedicated and active social channels (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr) for the PSL – @TheRealPSL. They know that getting consumers engaged early and often are the keys to the success of the PSL.


How do we know it’s working? Look around.


If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Starbucks must be really, really flattered.


So although I’m not a fan of The Pumpkin Spice Latte (I said it again) even I can truly appreciate its incredible high irresistibility factor™.

What Can Food Marketers Learn From The Pumpkin Spice Latte Phenonemon? Click through to find out!