The Reign of Pumpkin Spice Everything is Over

Every year around early September is the unofficial start of “pumpkin season.” You know, the time when brands trot out pumpkin-flavored everything, from desserts to hummus to yogurt to coffee to, I kid you not – pumpkin scented trash bags.

The pumpkin spice season is increasingly encroaching on summer (as evidenced by Starbucks launching its fall menu in late August in 2023, after launching it in September in 2022), and the craze has resulted in more and more brands jumping on the trend.

And this year, the pumpkin spice latte, or PSL as it’s widely referred to, turns 20 years old. In the year ending July 29, U.S. sales of pumpkin-flavored products reached $802.5 million, according to Nielsen. That’s up 42% from the same period in 2019.

Challengers To Pumpkin’s Crown 

Based on that stat alone, brands should prioritize pumpkin or pumpkin spice when it comes to introducing a new fall flavor of a given product, right? Not so fast. New research shows that brands may want to consider other flavors, or challengers to the mighty pumpkin crown: apple and caramel.

Using our own Test Your Idea platform – which predicts the sales potential of new ideas – we surveyed 500 consumers in a nationally representative sample on the latest pumpkin, caramel and apple products from nationally known brands. Consumers are asked to rate their likelihood of buying or selling “shares” in a product, which is defined as “predicted acceptance.”

Survey Says

We conducted two separate surveys. One on US Fall Grocery Launches, which included retail products from brands such as Chobani and Planters. The second survey, US Fall Menu Launches, featured new items from leading quick service restaurants like Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and Wendy’s.

You can read the full report and findings via the links above but allow me to cut right to the proverbial chase. The days of pumpkin reigning lord and master over fall may be coming to an end.

What you see at the top of the leaderboard from each survey is equally important as to what you don’t see.

Source: System1 Test Your Idea survey, US Fall Grocery Launches

Source: System1 Test Your Idea survey, US Fall Menu Launches

As you saw, the highest-scoring new fall product in each survey was NOT pumpkin, but instead apple and caramel for the Grocery and Fall launches, respectively.


What’s a Marketer to Do?

First off, this does not mean pumpkin flavor should be abandoned come next fall. Of course not. What it does mean is brands should not “default” to pumpkin. If your organization is going to invest in seasonal foods and beverages, you need to ensure that the flavors meld well together (apple and coffee were a particularly divisive combination in our testing) and that the flavor (like pumpkin, apple or maple) is indeed well suited for the product and its use case.

While some foods such as desserts are better suited for the earthy sweet flavor of pumpkin, that does not mean ALL foods and products need to be pumpkin-fied!

The key here is to test to understand the predicted in-market success of your new innovation. System1’s Test Your Idea platform measures how people feel about ideas because the more people feel, the more they buy.

In addition to uncovering how they feel, Test Your Idea highlights reasons for these emotions and collects the main advantages of the idea and suggestions for improvement from the 500 people surveyed (representing the general public) to help brands further improve the success of their ideas.

And because the platform leverages “Wisdom of the Crowd” methodology, it offers more predictive results than the focus groups of existing customers that some brands rely on when launching new innovations.

So, now that you have the perfect testing tool, get ready to create the next seasonal smash hit.