Would Ichabod Crane be celebrating the early appearance of anything pumpkin-related? Doubtful. Fiction’s favorite Cucurbitophobic fellow found pumpkins off-putting after his “Sleepy Hollow” ordeal.
Not so for millions of Americans who are learning that the Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte (“PSL” to the in-crowd) will make another pre-Labor Day debut this year.
That’s the word, anyway, as baristas began mentioning the arrival of the key ingredient Pumpkin Spice Sauce to folks in the food press who are adept at reading gourd signs to divine coming events. Though there’s no official word at this writing, experts place the debut at Aug. 24. That’s a day earlier than the 2020 release date, which was reportedly moved up as a lockdown comfort.
Corporate caffeine rival Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t being secretive about its pumpkin plans. Aug. 18 is its official date for the seasonal rollout of all beverages pumpkin, with an emphasis on assortment.
According to an Aug. 11 announcement, “Pumpkin picking season is giving Dunkin’ fans the chance to pick from the brand’s latest lineup, with an iconic pumpkin pair, new Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew and Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte, as well as classic Pumpkin Flavored Coffees,” plus an array of baked goods to match.
There’s really just one big question: Why? Are big brands abandoning the whole concept of seasonal specials? Will they start playing the “Charlie Brown Christmas” music in July?
We go in search of answers.
The Psychology of Pumpkin Love
If you ask Starbucks, they’ll say that “the PSL has become its own cultural phenomenon, with each silky-smooth sip of the drink reminding fans of crisp, autumnal days past. Every year social media is [sic] ablaze with excitement, and this year, pumpkin lovers’ joy is particularly contagious.”
That final word was an odd choice when written last year amid lockdowns, but it does get to the heart of how something akin to medieval mulled wine is such a 21st-century hit.
Turning to the minds at Psychology Today, we’re told, “There are a number of psychological factors that are behind the attraction to pumpkin spice. Primary among those are cognitive associations of pumpkin spice with positive memories and experiences.”
They go on to say, however, that the ingredients of hot pumpkin beverages are kind of trippy.
“Maybe some of the attraction is chemical. Nutmeg, for example, contains high amounts of myristicin. Related to peyote, myristicin works on the central nervous system to enhance the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. This can cause sensations of dizziness, lightheadedness and, in large amounts, hallucinations,” per Psychology Today. We’ll take that under advisement.
Similar mood-altering claims are made about cinnamon, clove and ginger. Scientific study is obviously required, but we posit that there’s more to the PSL than what meets the taste buds.
Where Payments Meet Pumpkins
As we revel in the warm-weather welcome for an admittedly autumnal treat, perhaps the “more” we refer to is commercial in nature. As in, “why wait when it’ll sell right now?”
Point taken. In a blog post, eCommerce loyalty platform Clarus Commerce previously observed that “when Starbucks unleashed its famed pumpkin spice latte on the masses, there was a chain reaction that registered 150,000 more visits in the first two days than on a normal day and saw its national market share increase, where most of their competitors remained flat or lost shares.”
Two words: pumpkin loyalty. Don’t even start on what this does to retail’s scarcity principle.
Grocery is no slouch when it comes to such trends — and though we’re not sure about delivery dates, there will be a tantalizing selection of pumpkin-spiced creams available for home use, including the staggeringly popular vegan Pumpkin Spice Flavored Non-Dairy Creamer.
Nor does it begin and end with coffee and pumpkin patisserie. Not anymore.
As lifestyle site Chatelaine reminds us, “Though Starbucks-branded #PSL dominates, the pumpkin spice phenomenon is hardly restricted to one company or product. Many, many other brands have gotten on board, and from August until sometime around Christmas, you can liberally pumpkin spice up your life with candles, dog chews, deodorant, cough drops, lip balm, pizza and more.”
Turns out Linus was right to place his faith in The Great Pumpkin all those years ago. He may have lost the girl, but he’s probably making a mint on great pumpkin spiced whatever.