Fall is officially here, and grocery store shelves are flooded once again with a plethora of pumpkin-spice-flavored products. The autumnal flavor has made its way into everything from Eggo waffles and Oreo cookies to Chobani yogurt, M&Ms, Pinnacle vodka and Pringles potato chips. Of course, one of the most well-known pumpkin spice products among the caffeinated set is Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, which has garnered a loyal following since its debut in 2003.
Starbucks has sold more than 200 million pumpkin spice lattes over the past 11 years, and this year, Starbucks’ kicked off its “PSL” promotions in late August with an integrated marketing campaign that included in-store signage, print ads, and a millennial-friendly Twitter handle, @TheRealPSL. If the pumpkin spice craze seems stronger than ever, it’s for good reason: Seasonal offerings are a powerful marketing hook and help stoke consumers’ year-round interest in the brands that offer them, experts say.
Limited-time flavors are essential in the food industry, says Christopher Cornyn, president of Dine, a Foster City, Calif.-based food marketing agency. “In the food world, there are three key words to success: new, new and new. Consumers expect it. If pumpkin spice was in Starbucks all year round, the demand wouldn’t be there.”
Specially flavored offerings also can help food brands sell more of their original versions by boosting overall brand affinity, says Brian Wansink, professor of consumer behavior and director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and author of Slim byDesign: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. “People can’t eat the same kind of M&Ms all the time, but when they shake it up with a new flavor, people like them a lot more, eat a lot more and end up liking the original a lot more. Most categories can get really boring. They need to say, ‘We’re shaking it up a bit,’ even if it’s temporary. It makes it an elite, rare offering and it gives people something to look forward to.”
This article was originally published in the Sept. 30, 2014, issue of Marketing News Weekly.
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Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.