Fall Arrives in Pumpkin Spiced Flavors

Starbucks serves a primer on the power of seasonal selling.

My first taste of fall came at my neighborhood Starbucks in High Point, North Carolina. It was a real taste — a comforting mix of pumpkin spices swirling in my mouth. Think cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. And think, too, about the arrival of autumn and what that could mean to us in the mattress business.

That’s where we will start this column, with some reflections on the brilliant launch of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks way back in 2003. Call that the drink that launched a thousand pumpkin-flavored products. Starbucks didn’t invent pumpkin spice, but it did popularize it. The world has not been the same since.

That’s not some over-caffeinated opinion.

Today the pumpkin spice–flavored market generates more than $500 million each year, according to media brand Ad Age. (And that number is sure to increase since the beloved beverage has jumped to between $5.45 to $5.95 for a grande size.)

Incredibly, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is big enough to single handedly launch a new season. As Starbucks says on its website: “The first sip of a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte or Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew cues the unofficial start of the fall season for many customers.” 

The Washington Post waxes lyrical about the PSL. The arrival of that drink, the Post declares, is “an annual event that has become the symbolic starting pistol of the crisp, floating-leaf, cable-knit autumn of our collective imagination.” The headline on the Post’s story is also revealing: “Pumpkin spice won. It’s time to accept it and move on.”

Starbucks has tapped into deeply held feelings of family and home, entertaining and special holidays that autumn ushers in each year. Think of it like the home focus that Covid-19 brought, without all the bad things that the pandemic produced. This is, as the Post suggests, the pumpkin-tinged fall of our dreams.

If you’re looking for a primer on the power of seasonal marketing, this is it. And yet I don’t see our industry embracing the arrival of fall with the passion and excitement that Starbucks has created with the advent of pumpkin spice lattes.

We celebrate the unofficial arrival of fall with something more pedestrian: Labor Day sales. True, those sales are a vital element on retailers’ calendars, but the problem with holiday sales is that they come and go, to be followed by … another holiday sale. Are those Indigenous Peoples Day (October 10) mattress specials ready yet? Got your Veterans Day promotions set?

One bedding executive once told me that what we really need in the mattress industry is more holidays after Labor Day. No, what we really need is more creativity and imagination. Holidays come and go. So do seasons, but they last longer and they reach us on a deeper level.

Fall stirs powerful emotions. It gives us a fresh start each year, something we all can appreciate. We return to work after relaxing summer vacations. Students begin a new school year. Football is back in high schools, colleges and in the professional leagues. We focus again on our homes. Time to get the patio ready for grilling parties when we watch the big games with a big crowd. Time to get the guest bedroom ready for the upcoming holidays, if we didn’t already upgrade that bedroom during the pandemic.

Let’s take a page out of the Starbucks playbook and celebrate the return of fall in all its glories. Let’s bring some of the spooky fun of Halloween to our retail stores. Let’s decorate our High Point Market showrooms this month with plenty of pumpkins and bowls of candy. (I vote for M&Ms, candy corn and “fun size” candy bars.) And let’s look for new ways to connect with our consumers as they return to their homes and share the special celebrations that come when families and friends assemble for fun and fellowship.

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