So, what does the prevalence of pumpkin spice say about our culture?
- Nostalgia pays off. In contrast to the retail backlash around marketing and decorating for the Christmas holiday, fall denotes warmth and nostalgia without any gift-giving pressure. And pumpkin-inspired, limited-time offers are up 234% from 2008 to 2012, according to Datassential Menu Trends.
- Imitation is flattery. As if pumpkin spice candles weren't enough, there are a plethora of products to choose from to complete your personal pumpkinification, such as: M&M’s, Pringles, Hershey’s Kisses, Planters, Eggos, Jet-Puffed Marshmallows, Country Crock, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Bath and Body Works, and yes, even Glade Room Spray. The icing on the cake...er, pie...of proliferation came via a feminine care products spoof by Saturday Night Live.
- Indulgences are in our nature. A slice of pumpkin pie has nearly as many calories as a 16oz. pumpkin spice latte with 2% milk, but who’s counting?
- The rules are tricky. It’s acceptable to launch some products early as long as there is customer demand and the item doesn’t have religious or date-dependent ties. Pre-promotion of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte in celebration of the popular drink’s 10-year anniversary had a domino effect within the industry starting in September.
- Seasonality rules. Winter squash is harvested in autumn and is most likely native to Guatemala and Mexico and surrounding areas, dating back 10,000 years, according to author Kim O’Donnel.
- Smell is a powerful sense. It’s not surprising that pumpkin spice tastes nothing like pumpkin. Hidden behind aromatic combination spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon, you’d be hard pressed to pick a butternut squash out of a lineup.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Contrary to popular belief, pumpkin pie and definitely pumpkin spice do not contain your Halloween friend. Squash style pumpkins, which are sweeter, are best for pie filling.
- Brands Beware. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. In addition to the SNL skit, there's a plethora of disdain for the commercialization of pumpkin spice, but you shouldn't blame Starbucks. The relationship with the flavor combination has evolved over the past ten years, and companies have followed suit. It's definitely time for product development teams to consider new alternatives.
Update 11.21.13: A writer for Slate spent a week on a 'Pumpkin Spice Diet'. We love his commentary and would add that "special edition" has lost meaning altogether due to various marketing campaigns that don't really live up to expectations.