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Clarity Pumpkin Spice Index Part II: Have we Reached Maximum Pumpkin Spice-ness?

Believe it or not, Starbucks didn’t invent pumpkin spice. McCormick did. Still, Starbucks, or more accurately, their brilliant marketing of the pumpkin spice latte (PSL), is likely responsible for making it synonymous with fall. And with coffee.

As we delve deeper into the media coverage this Pumpkin Spice Season (PSS), we noticed that, from a brand perspective, Starbucks owns the PSS conversation. As the chart below shows, as far as quantity of coverage is concerned, Starbucks’ share of voice dwarfs that of other hot seasonal products. Dunkin’ barely registered on our chart, and it’s the most challenger-ing of all the PS beverage purveyors.

Pumpkin Spice Spam (PSSP) was the shiny new object on the block this year, so it garnered a considerable amount of media attention. That spike you see on September 23rd? That’s the day PSSP hit the digital shelves – and promptly sold out. But, while PSSP had more coverage when announced and when released, Starbucks still overwhelms in overall coverage quantity.

What I found interesting is that line between PSSP and Starbucks. That’s all the references to PS coffee/latte/cold brew that isn’t from Starbucks or Dunkin’. That shows that Starbucks may have started the PSL craze, but it’s not necessarily going to own it forever.

For now, though, the amount of non-Starbucks PS coffee discussion is still far below that of Starbucks. But what about PS that isn’t necessarily coffee? Well, that’s an entirely different chart:

As you can see, when you look at the overall quantity of Starbucks vs. non-Starbucks PS-related media coverage, Starbucks isn’t as dominant as it seems.

And how about year over year? I looked at Starbucks coverage from August 1st to December 1st each year from 2014 to 2018 and found that peak PSL seems to have occurred in 2015, when it garnered 3,850 English-language pieces of media coverage – up 1,375% from the prior year. People must have had a sugar hangover in 2016, because the quantity dropped 62% that year. 2017 and 2018 were up again, but still didn’t reach 2015 levels.

My next question was, does all PS coverage rise and fall with Starbucks? The answer is, sort of. There was a huge jump from 2014 to 2015 (+609%), then unlike Starbucks’ trendline, the general PS coverage kept climbing until it hit peak PSS in 2017.

What have we learned from this analysis? Well, brand-wise, Starbucks still owns PSS, but it’s still a just one part of a giant PSS conversation. And, while PSS started earlier this year and, at least to me, it feels like it’s bigger than ever this year, it’s actually on the decline.

Perhaps people are remembering that they actually like hot chocolate better.

In our next installment, we’ll look at trending recipes and what people are actually buying!


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