Why Does the Pumpkin Spice Latte Endure? An Investigative Report

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

It’s officially fall, which means boots crunching on leaves, scarves pulled tight, and pumpkin everything (lattes, in particular).

Starbucks’ beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL for short, is known for causing quite a fuss. Although the coffee conglomerate doesn’t share their sales figures, a spokesperson said that the PSL is their best-selling holiday beverage (no surprise there). The drink even has its own Twitter account.

So, what makes it so good? Why do we still love it so?

(Image credit: Jonathan Weiss)

The PSL and Beyond: The Pumpkin-Spice Economy

First released 13 years ago, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is now available in nearly 50 countries around the world, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing.

According to Fast Casual, more than 200 million autumn-infused lattes have been sold since September 2013, resulting in a nearly 7 percent increase in market share. Forbes estimates that Starbucks made $100 million from the drink last fall alone.

But what about the pumpkin-spice haters, you might ask? Yes, there are those who have a serious case of PSL fatigue, but the phenomenon continues in spite of these vocal critics.

And it’s not just lattes. Go to your local grocery store and you’ll be confronted with pumpkin spice everything, from pumpkin spice cereal to pumpkin spice beer. There are

pumpkin spice dish towels, pumpkin spice candles, and pumpkin spice dish soaps

“Pumpkin Spice Economy” brought in $500 million in food, beverage, and other novelty sales.

It seems we just can’t quit pumpkin spice — and there are a few good reasons why.

3 Reasons We Love Pumpkin Spice

1. Pumpkin spice makes us emotional (in a good way).

According to New York Times bestselling author Devin Alexander, pumpkin spice is deeply tied to our emotions. “It evokes fall and the embrace of big sweaters and the changing leaves,” Alexander says, adding that “it also connects many people directly to shared memories with family over pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, which is arguably one of the happiest days of the year for enjoying family.”

2. Pumpkin spice is rare (kind of).

The seasonal nature of the drink makes it popular as well. Although the PSL is showing up earlier and earlier, for the most part it’s only available in the fall — unlike other cold-weather favorites like a hot chocolate or a peppermint mocha. The limited-time-only nature of the drink creates a sort of frenzy where consumers feel the need to get their pumpkin spice fix in before the season ends.

3. Pumpkin spice is basically a biological need.

There’s also a chance that the particular flavors of pumpkin spice are tied to a basic human instinct. Registered Dietician Clancy Cash Harrison says that our taste buds are naturally wired to prefer sweet and salty tastes for survival.

“It’s in our DNA to crave foods with calories from sugar,” Harirson observes. “The Pumpkin Spice Latte does not disappoint.” Sure enough, a medium or “Grande” sized PSL comes packed with 420 calories.

What are your feelings on the pumpkin spice phenomenon? Are you a fan or a critic?