How pumpkin spice became the multimillion-dollar flavor that marks the official beginning of fall

Pumpkin spice flavoring has rapidly become a multimillion-dollar industry, thanks to Starbucks.

While the coffee giant isn’t responsible for actually creating the flavor, their genius marketing campaign in the fall of 2003 (the first year their iconic pumpkin spice latte was available) created a flavor and scent empire that would inspire other major companies, like Dunkin’ Donuts, Bath & Body Works and Kellogg’s, to hop on the bandwagon.

Since 2003, Starbucks has made over $1 billion from pumpkin spice latte sales alone.

But what exactly caused this craze?

A huge factor is marketing. Short-term seasonal flavors always boost sales for businesses, but it’s the rarity of pumpkin spice that really skyrockets the flavor’s popularity during the fall months. 

Kara Nielsen, a food and beverage trendologist, explains to Cooking Light that while McDonald’s offers their special edition Shamrock Shake throughout March, the drink’s flavor — mint — is less special because it’s also the top pick for flavoring everyday items, such as toothpaste or gum. Thus, the limited availability of the pumpkin spice flavor plus how uncommon pumpkin spice is in everyday necessities makes pumpkin spice flavoring all the more alluring to consumers.

Then it becomes about association. The sale of pumpkin-flavored food, personal and household goods rose almost 80% from 2011 to 2015. After a certain amount of exposure to these flavors and scents during a specific time of the year, our brains begin to associate pumpkin spice with fall, and vice versa. 

How has the flavor become such a booming moneymaker? A study mentioned in the video above shows that companies often hike up their prices for pumpkin-flavored goods — betting that most people won’t notice the price difference since it’s only available for a short amount of time, once a year.

Watch the video above for more background on how pumpkin spice got to be the powerhouse flavor it is today.

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