This Fall, Pumpkin Spiced Latte Has a New Competitor

Social media data is hinting at an upcoming showdown between Pumpkin Spiced Latte and Maple Pecan?

Love it or hate it,

Come fall, you cannot escape it

Pumpkin Spiced Latte

But this fall, PSL’s reign appears to be challenged by another American favorite: maple. From candy, syrups and beer, this versatile flavor might spill over to your morning brew and word on social media is that this might be a welcome change.

Looking back at PSL’s rise

The pumpkin spiced latte has been a prized drink and a cash cow for Starbucks for many years — its arrival marks a prosperous time for the chain where September is the fourth or fifth busiest month at Starbucks outlets, thanks to the sales spike caused by the beverage. Between 2003 and 2015, Starbucks sold more than 200 million PSLs.

The drink has monopolized seasonal beverage menus since its launch and split the market between lovers and haters. But are people tired of the craze? Is this autumn guest’s reign facing a new threat from other flavors like maple? Market analytics firms suggest that the number of pumpkin spice items sold online has jumped 49% year-over-year, but sales have only grown by 21%.

We turned to the internet’s water cooler and analyzed social media conversations to identify if PSL is about to be dethroned.

Caution! Contents are hot

When we looked at conversations from 2010 to date, we found consistent seasonal spikes but it hit its peak volume in 2013.

In September 2013, McDonald’s launched its own version of the drink to lure Starbucks’ crowd by offering a 16 ounce latte for $2.89 compared to $4.55 at Starbucks.

On social, the drink has a polarized audience. Stereotyped as a hipster drink, the internet has no dearth of PSL memes with a famous one that goes, “I spilled my Pumpkin Spiced Latte and now a bunch of ants are making brunch plans and doing yoga”

Some rave about it while some others who detest it wear it as a badge of honor.

Either way, there is no doubt that people feel quietly strongly about it. When we drew up the emotion chart based on social conversations, we found that ‘joy’ and ‘disgust’ are two reigning sentiments people associate with the drink with associations like “love,” “white girl,” and “good.”

May I interest you in alternatives?

But just like the seasonal menu, consumer preferences are also changing and their loyalty is only as strong as the next new flavor. And retail experts predict that might be maple.

From social conversation volume, we can see that maple seems to have a little more staying power, as it’s not AS seasonally specific as Pumpkin Spice, though it hit its peak in 2015, when the flavor was introduced in craft brews and pop tarts.

The discussion around the flavor has stayed somewhat consistent before a recent spike after Dunkin Donuts introduced Maple Pecan flavor in coffee. Meanwhile, reports suggest that sales of maple-flavored products are up 86% in nonalcoholic beverages, and 14.6% in spiked drinks in 2017, compared with the same quarter last year.

While coffee chains like Dunkin Donuts are betting on the maple pecan flavor to oust PSL, the social audience did not take too kindly to maple with the dominant emotion associated with it being ‘disgust.’ But some are hopeful this ends PSL’s reign. But that might be a tough climb on social — since 2010, there have been over 2 million posts about PSL compared to 122,442 for maple.

Conclusion

Consumer preferences are quite like seasons — always changing and often cyclical. It’s pumpkin spice today, maple pecan tomorrow. But social media conversations are often the best indicators to spot changing winds and shifting trends.

For more information on current trends in the beverage industry, download our report below.

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