Yesterday, Starbucks reintroduced its perennially popular Pumpkin Spice Latte – the drink’s earliest official launch date ever. The coffee company offers six different pumpkin spice variations, including some that are arriving globally to various unconventional locations in the form of new bottled iced lattes and ground coffee packages. Since the flavours debut in January 2003, pumpkin spice has been a category killer for Starbucks. However, the company is no longer the sole representative of the flavour. Consumers are now able to get their fix of pumpkin spice in almost any processed food. Pumpkin-flavoured products are expanding to the inventories of major brands including Oreos, M&Ms and more. MarketWatch reports that the number of pumpkin spice products available online by assorted merchandisers has grown 49% in the past year.
While seasonality and limited quantities pump up the pumpkin fad, there’s a bigger consumer desire driving this trend. Consumer demand for flavours and experiences continues to drive food marketing. The flavour and fragrance category is a huge business, accounting for about $25 billion in 2016’s annual American sales.
Consumer obsessions with seasonal commodities are external opportunities companies are able to use their strengths to capitalize on. Our desire for a limited-edition product is not solely influenced by our desire for the flavour. The experience a consumer is able to associate with a product, influences the demand for it. Seasonal marketing is about experiences, which consumers increasingly crave as an antidote to daily stress. Without necessarily being aware of it, we associate flavour cues with other things in our lives. Thus, standing in line for a pumpkin spice latte may evoke cozy fall days and the approach of the family holiday, Thanksgiving.
Other companies also demonstrate the use of seasonal flavours to drive a spike in sales. For example, McDonald’s offers its St. Patrick’s Day-themed Shamrock Shakes seasonally, leading to an overall increase in sales. Some 60 million Shamrock Shakes have been sold since their introduction in 1970s.
Another contribution to consumer’s obsessions with limited edition products is the simple fact of scarcity. Consumers can’t get their favourite flavour any time of year, which makes them value it all the more ultimately creating a spike in demand for a product. Limited edition flavours are not the only limits that inspire consumers to participate in the market.
The logic of limited edition marketing is to create short-lived excitement about a product in a market where the consumers experience the rushed mentality of “now or next year”.