Pumpkin spice-themed products serve up nutmeg, nostalgia

In 2003, Starbucks first introduced the pumpkin spice latte. Every fall the number of pumpkin spice products explodes, and we're eating it up. In fact, our obsession with pumpkin spice shows no sign of abating.

Fall trend popping up in restaurants, the cookie aisle, even at pet stores

Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte more than a decade ago. The popularity of this seasonal flavour has continued to grow. (Starbucks/Facebook)

In 2003, Starbucks first introduced the pumpkin spice latte. Every fall, the number of pumpkin spice products explodes, and we're eating it up. In fact, our obsession with pumpkin spice shows no sign of abating.

Now McDonalds, Tim Hortons and Dairy Queen all have pumpkin spice products on their menus. But it doesn't stop at the fast-food counter. Oreos, M&Ms, beer, pudding, Pop Tarts and even dog food are getting in on the action.

But why? Marketing experts say pumpkin spice taps into positive feelings of nostalgia, home and Halloween. The flavour also evokes love, family and connection.

In other words, it's instant comfort in a cup, cookie or candy.

But simply tossing some pumpkin spice into a product doesn't automatically spell sales gold. Companies must create something innovative to entice consumers, according to Fang Wan, a professor of marketing at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business.

"Innovation is really about something new and something useful, and the concept is very clear is that the consumers crave for things that is new," she said.

"We all want to be the leader and we pay dearly to something that is new. That's why the companies who are more innovative, of course, will charge a higher price margin than compared to the traditional products."

And as fast as companies pump out new pumpkin products, we consumers eat them up.

Consumer research company Nielsen asked its 250,000 shoppers to track their purchases. Last year in the United States, 37 per cent of consumers bought pumpkin-related products. They spent $361 million, an increase of 79 per cent since 2011.

Pumpkin overload?

That said, there is a limit to consumer consumption. Susie Erjavec-Parker, a social media and marketing strategist based in Winnipeg, warned that companies should tread cautiously in the pumpkin patch.

"I would say be careful what products you are attaching that label to — you don't want to bombard your customers with pumpkin overload," said Erjavec-Parker.

However, she also admits companies would be crazy to ignore this trend. For proof, she points to a 2014 consumer marketing study for MediaPost by shopper survey group USamp.

Eight new pumpkin products were tested by a sample group of shoppers. All scored 50 per cent or higher in consumer satisfaction. That means at least half of the people in the study would buy the products. For companies, that is a home run.

The same study found that pumpkin spice is most popular among 18- to 34-year-olds — a demographic grand slam.

The next step, Erjavec-Parker said, is to connect with that group who live and learn, communicate and consume with the help of social media.

That may be why Starbucks created its own Twitter account, @TheRealPSL, for its pumpkin spice latte. It has more than 107,000 followers.


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