Pumpkin Flavored Everything!

September 1, 2019
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Everything is coming up . . . Pumpkin? 

In record-setting fashion, Starbucks released its Pumpkin latte earlier than ever—trumping everyone else in the pumpkin commerce game.

Almost everyone I know has noticed pumpkin’s ever-growing infiltration of our lives. In increasingly elf on a shelf fashion, pumpkin over the years has started springing up everywhere in September asking us to question occasionally the sanity of the manufacturers and retailers. (Pumpkin Twinkies and Pumpkin Hummus? Really!?!?!)

Walking through the grocery store, pumpkin starts to appear everywhere we look. NOW it’s not just in more items, it’s earlier and earlier in the season, defying all standards of reason. 

Labor Day weekend was once almost a patriotic holiday nearly equivalent to Fourth of July in consumer standards. Stores and bakeries advertised patriotic cakes and products for the Labor Day Holiday—the last hoorah of summer was a star spangled one for some generations.

Labor Day weekend was also the school supply weekend, where businesses advertised their school products. Now, pumpkin, despite Halloween being a good 60 days away, is moving to conquer Labor Day consumer trends, and it’s not difficult to foresee that other brands are panicking right now.

Starbucks really before Labor Day with the pumpkin, they might be saying, let’s have our pumpkin products out in August too next year! 

Now, in the new Pumpkin economy, anything goes. But not everyone is happy about this. A lot of bloggers and major publications are decrying Starbucks for its move, while also explaining the practical reasons. Vox.com writes:

“But contempt for the PSL and other items of the seasonal pumpkin spice variety is often not really about the flavor itself. After all, there are plenty of other flavors we should all be way more furious about. (There is a shop in Scotland that serves mayonnaise ice cream, people!) Too frequently, it’s about sexism, class anxiety, and our collective skepticism of savvy marketing. After all, the PSL is doing something right: It’s Starbucks’ most popular seasonal beverage, with about 424 million sold worldwide. And in 2019, the chain is only leaning in further: Starbucks just announced the introduction of the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, finally admitting to the world that late August is still iced coffee weather.”

Read more about pumpkin’s remarkable ability to stoke both passion, love and anxiety in the full Vox article: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vox.com/platform/amp/culture/2018/8/29/17791082/pumpkin-spice-latte-starbucks-backlash-explained

How does the pumpkin trend speak to businesses in general who are looking to engage in savvy seasonal advertising? The trend inspires a crucial message for all businesses:

Yes, numbers may talk (the pumpkin is the Starbucks most profitable seasonal beverage.) But tact and respect for customs still may outweigh profits.

Starbucks has a cushy spot in consumers’ imaginations. Short of a catastrophic event, they are not losing steam any time soon. But most businesses don’t share such a comfy spot and must be ever-vigilante about their strategies. 

Before jumping on any bandwagon, it’s vital to respect customs and seasonal perceptions. While an extra two weeks of selling pumpkin may be making Starbucks a lot of money, that doesn’t necessarily convey the right message to their customers.

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