Food, Travel and Tech

Here's why pumpkin spice is hitting menus earlier than ever


This year, Starbucks introduced its pumpkin spice latte for the season on Aug. 27 — the earliest date ever for the cult fall beverage that launched in 2003.

These days, pumpkin spice has spread beyond coffee to almost every type of food imaginable, from cereal to beer to even SPAM. Last year, Forbes valued the entire pumpkin-spice industry to be worth an estimated $608 million.

So how did a single flavor come to take over the fall season? And have we reached peak pumpkin spice?

The pumpkin spice as we know it today is actually is a blend of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice, created in 1934 by McCormick & Company, who introduced the blend as an alternative for consumers who were buying all four spices to make pumpkin pie.

Of course today, many consumers associate the flavor with Starbucks, which didn't originate the flavor but has certainly popularized it.

Nearly 70 years after McCormick & Company released their spice blend, executives at Starbucks found that seasonal beverages were a hit in the winter. They wanted to create the fall equivalent. Thus, the Pumpkin Spice Latte was born.

From 2011 to 2016, McCormick saw sales of their Pumpkin Pie Spice increase by 80 percent. What used to be a strictly fall flavor has now creeped into summertime, as companies looking to get a piece of the pie are introducing their pumpkin spice products earlier and earlier each year.

"This flavor is really starting to be more common throughout the year ... not just as the signature flavor for fall but as an everyday flavor," Jill Pratt, vice president of North America Marketing at McCormick & Company told CNBC Make It.

Despite the potential fatigue from consumers, the payoff is worth it for brands. In fact, a study of roughly 200 products confirmed the existence of a "pumpkin-spice tax" — consumers pay more for the pumpkin spice versions of their favorite foods.

"People just want something very comforting," food scientist Kantha Shelke told CNBC Make It.

Right now, all signs show that pumpkin spice is here to stay. It has outshined its rivals to become the taste of fall, and companies are still betting on the flavor.

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