What’s Behind the Rise of Pumpkin Spice?

Fall – beautiful aspen leaves, perfect sweatcoffeeer weather, football, and, of course, pumpkin spice.

Love it or hate it, come September, it is nearly impossible to escape “pumpkin spice.” It’s a flavor, it’s a color, it’s a smell. Is there anything that can’t be “pumpkin spice?”

Where did our obsession with pumpkin spice start? Perhaps the first reference to pumpkin spice is in cookbooks, which referred to a flavor that was originally referred to as “pompkin” with molasses, allspice and ginger.

In the 1950s, spice companies like McCormick started bundling common spices used in pumpkin pie as “pumpkin pie spice.” This became more simply, “pumpkin spice” in the 1960s for people too lazy to measure out their own cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.

The 1990s brought the true downfall of pumpkin spice – the first reference to pumpkin spice coffee, with Home Roast Coffee near Tampa, Florida brewing up “pumpkin spice” beans.

Then, in 2004, pumpkin spice hit the big time when Starbucks introduced its Pumpkin Spice Latte nationwide. Nation’s Restaurant News reported that sales at Starbucks stores rose 11 percent that year.

More than 200 million Lattes have been sold since its inception, and Forbes estimated the company earned around $100 million in revenue from the drink alone last fall. It even has its own verified Twitter account, @TheRealPSL.

The variety of pumpkin-spiced foods on the market each year continues to grow and get just a little more weird. The food news site Eater even chronicles them in a list of “65 Pumpkin Spice Foods That Have No Business Being Pumpkin Spiced.” Some of the highlights include:

  • Pumpkin Spice Latte M&Ms
  • Wrigley’s Extra Pumpkin Spice gum
  • Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses
  • Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice marshmallows
  • Cedar’s Pumpkin Spice hummus
  • Pumpkin Spice Pringles
  • Super Shake Pumpkin Spice non-GMO vegan protein powder
  • SweetLeaf Pumpkin Spice liquid stevia

It truly is a worldwide phenomenon, but it truly is Starbucks who now owns the “pumpkin spice” space. Through their comprehensive strategic marketing, public relations and social media efforts, they are synonymous with this fall craze. Some argue that perhaps the PR hype has reached its peak. After all, Starbucks released its Pumpkin Spice Latte even earlier this year – on August 25, if you had a super-secret passcode. The early release led one protester in Philadelphia to even start a revolution dubbed “Stop Premature Pumpkin Spicing.” Only time will tell if this trend is headed for a downfall, but signs are there that perhaps it is hitting market saturation.

So, celebrate all that is pumpkin spice now while you can. It’s only a few short weeks until we are overtaken by peppermint and pine!