One of the most distinctive harbingers of the fall season is the return of pumpkin spice — to coffee shops, to menus and to some things that aren’t even edible. Pumpkin spice flavoring is so popular that some merchants will add it to just about any product to garner attention.
And it’s big business. In 2018, Forbes reported that pumpkin products constituted a $600 million market. The poster child for pumpkin popularity is Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, which debuted in 2003 and which observers see as a turning point in the pumpkin trend. The coffee chain brought it back to the menu on Aug. 24 (the earliest return date ever), along with its iced Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. Starbucks sells about 424 million of the fall-flavored lattes each year, generating an estimated $100 million, according to Forbes.
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, 57, of Mountain Home, Arkansas, eagerly awaits the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte and other pumpkin spice products each fall.
“My social media followers get tired of me anticipating [it] as early as August,” says Fivecoat-Campbell, who purchased a Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino from Starbucks the first week it became available. “I first got into it when it really started hitting big with Starbucks, and I think now there's everything pumpkin spice.”
On the list of the most popular pumpkin products (in addition to those lattes) are pumpkin spice ice cream (generating $10 million annually), pumpkin pie filling ($130 million) and pumpkin-flavored dog food ($109 million).
Eliza Cross, 62, of Boulder, Colorado, has written two pumpkin-recipe cookbooks that feature dishes such as pumpkin risotto, chili and cakes. “Pumpkins lend themselves to a huge variety of recipes because they're a very versatile ingredient,” says Cross, who noted that the earthy flavors of the fruit pair well with savory dishes and and its sweetness makes for good desserts.
There may also be a neurological factor driving pumpkin fandom. Marie Wright, a food chemist and the chief global flavorist at ADM, a Chicago-based company that supplies ingredients to food manufacturers, says that fall flavors appeal to the primitive part of the brain, where memories and emotions are stored. “It evokes the feeling of warmth, security and coziness,” Wright says of pumpkin spice.
Here’s a look at some of the limited-edition pumpkin spice products that will be available in the coming months.