‘Tis the season. It’s that time of year again when we look forward to school days, the start of football and the premiere of all those new fall TV shows. But the tastes and scents of the season, which used to belong squarely with the apple, have now gone the way of the pumpkin (spice).
That begs the question, “Why are we so obsessed with pumpkin everything?” And when did it all begin?
Some say we have Starbucks to thank— or blame —for the rise of the orange squash. It all depends on your point of view. Of course the Halloween classic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown made its television debut way back in 1966, but that clearly was not the impetus for the recent deluge of pumpkin-flavored foods we see taking over the grocery store shelves these days.
Starbucks, on the other hand, introduced its ridiculously popular pumpkin spice latte (fondly known as PSL by its fans) in the fall of 2003, and the company definitely knows how to market it. From Facebook to Twitter to email blasts, they make excellent use of social media to whip up a frenzy among coffee drinkers everywhere. Then, just when everyone is in pumpkin heaven, spending their hard-earned dollars on the drink, they tell you it’s only going to be around for a limited time, which naturally only makes us want it more! In fact, the company has sold more than 200 million of these lattes since its introduction — at a crack of roughly $7.81 per drink. And why stop there when you can pair it with a nice slice of pumpkin bread?
This year, PSL made its appearance in Starbucks stores earlier than ever — September 6. And over the last few years, PSL has increasingly found itself in very good company. No longer the lone pumpkin product on the market, the craze has now spread within the market — to the likes of donuts, cereal, Oreos, yogurt, M&Ms, bagels, popcorn, chips, ice cream, beer, and even shampoo and lip balm. The “flavor” was so popular with Burt’s Bees beauty product users that some credit the rise of their stock to the seasonal offering.
What’s the most obvious reason for the huge popularity of pumpkin spice? It’s the idea that it’s only around for a limited time. People feel the need to “get it before it’s gone!!” And they do. It’s truly the fear of missing out (FOMO) that propels some people to stock up while they can. And if you like pumpkin donuts, it follows that pumpkin Cheerios would be good too, right? Better grab a box now!
Of course, that fear of missing out probably begins with the sheer joy of anticipation —the wait that makes it even more special when that pumpkiny-something finally hits the shelves or menu boards.
You may be surprised to learn that there appears to be some actual science behind our crazy desire for “limited edition” products like pumpkin-everything. Known as reactive theory, the concept was introduced by Jack Brehm way back in 1966 (The same year as Peanuts’ pumpkin-themed holiday special. Coincidence?)
Brehm and his team found that product unavailability seemed to increase the attractiveness of that item. Most of us have experienced that phenomenon — whether it’s with a dress, a cookie or a potential love interest.
It’s so powerful that, truth be told, you might really intend to order a mocha at the every time you go for coffee. But then you learn the holiday-themed lattes have a shorter window of availability, and that’s all it takes for you to order yourself a PSL — while you still can.
Then, of course, there’s the power of the people. If everyone else likes something, it must be good! If you knew that from 2005 to 2015, pumpkin options increased from a mere 6% to 14.5% on American restaurant menus, would it make you want to try one of them? That’s how a lot of pumpkin spice-lovers get lured in. And when someone volunteers to make the coffee run and everyone’s having a PSL, are you really going to order green tea? Sure you could — but the natural desire to fit in may lead you right to that popular seasonal drink.
Around one in every three people bought at least one pumpkin product in 2014 and the craze doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. So why fight it? If you don’t like your pumpkin in a latte, there are plenty more options to choose from.
Pumpkin symbolizes everything there is to love about fall – colorful leaves, sweet spices, and the warm cozy feeling of the season. So pick your pumpkin (spice) and snuggle in for an early taste of fall – while supplies last.