The Rise of the Pumpkin

For decades, this was the reigning, undisputed, undefeated, heavy-weight champion of the fall season:


The changing of the leaves was the sign that fall has come. It was (and still is) a beautiful sight. I think Albert Camus said it best:

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower

But, every good champion has an end to their run. The leaf is over. It’s the era of the pumpkin.

They rose to power on the back of our taste buds. Leaves are fun, but at certain points this fall you will probably partake in pumpkin coffee, pumpkin beer, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes or pumpkin bagels. Hell, you might even have pumpkin cider (a word of advice, don’t try pumpkin cider).

What started this craze? While you can find pumpkin beer dating back a few decades, the pumpkin started to become a thing when this became a thing:

pumpkin spice

That’s Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s easily Starbucks most popular seasonal drink, as Micheline Maynard pointed out last year:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Starbucks drink (now known by an acronym, PSL) and the company says it has sold more than 200 million thus far.

If you just do the math, that means Starbucks has sold an average 20 million beverages a year whose flavoring once belonged primarily in a seasonal pie, another accomplishment for the company run by billionaire Howard Schultz.

At the basic price of about $4 for a 12-ounce tall size, PSL means at least $80 million in revenue this fall for Starbucks, which serves it beginning in September. (That’s not including sales of pumpkin spice sauce, which we’ll talk about later). The company says the PSL is by far the most popular seasonal beverage in its lineup.

It’s only about to get more popular. This season, Starbucks can’t even wait until September to release this year’s batch of PSLs. The popular drink is coming back next week.

That’s right, the drink even has its own Twitter account. It has almost 50,000 followers. Excuse me while I contemplate my own, personal self worth.

The PSL isn’t the only pumpkin-based treat arriving early this year. Pumpkin beers have been showing up in stores all month long. This is often referred to as the “seasonal creep,” as Brewnewyork.com explains:

It’s the last day of July, and the fall seasonal beers are already hitting beer shop shelves. In fact, some of them have been sitting on shelves for over two weeks now. “Seasonal creep” in the beer industry, as we’ve noted before, is getting out of control. Brewers continue to push up their timelines so they can be first to market with their top-selling seasonal beers. 

Seasonal beverages have become a big business, but will it translate into increased sales?

In my opinion, part of the reason these seasonal beverages sell so well is because they remind us of specific seasons that we love. I love drinking pumpkin beer because I love the fall. I don’t particularly get the appeal of pumpkin beer in August, when temperatures around the country are anything but fall-like.

But no, I think I do. Americans love fall. Last year, yougov.com released a poll that proclaimed fall as America’s favorite season. Spring gives fall a run for its money in these polls, but there are a number of reasons Americans look forward to fall:

  • Halloween
  • Football season
  • New and returning TV shows
  • The holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas)
  • Fall festivals
  • The World Series
  • Back-to-school (more so for parents)

Summer can be great, but it gets boring in August. Our sports schedule gets light. We start to get tired of our kid’s summer vacations. There isn’t much to watch on television. Our friends are out of town. Honestly, after 4th of July weekend, it feels like the whole country seems to take a little break until Labor Day.

People want fall to come sooner. We may not be able to speed the passage of time, but we are able to produce our favorite fall drinks a little earlier each year. These drinks are a substitute for the season.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to enjoy this:

Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale

Even though this is the weather in my hometown of Tempe, AZ:

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