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Kristina Tipton

Director, Market Research at Near

3 mins read

The PSL Effect: How Fall Flavors Bring Big Business for QSRs

It’s been 20 years since the introduction of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) to Starbucks’ Fall beverage menu, and its popularity shows no signs of waning. This fall, Wendy’s hopped on the pumpkin spice bandwagon, launching the Pumpkin Spice Frosty, underscoring the pervasive influence of this seasonal flavor across Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs).

To understand more about the impact of pumpkin spice on QSR visitation, Near looked at locations of Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Wendy’s in 3 US markets (Miami, Boston, Seattle) and Starbucks in 3 international markets (London, Tokyo, Mexico City) in the weeks leading up to and following the launch of their pumpkin spice limited menu items.

Pumpkin Spice Shows Lift Across Brands

All three chains saw a notable uplift in visitation following the launch of their fall menu. However, Dunkin’ took the lead, with a 26% average increase in visitation following the introduction of their Pumpkin Spice Signature Latte and other menu items including a pumpkin muffins, donuts, and a pumpkin spice flavor swirl. Dunkin’ has also launched a collaboration with rapper Ice Spice involving pumpkin munchkins in a blended ice beverage, introduced in a series of commercials featuring the rapper and Dunkin’s brand ambassador, Ben Affleck.

The Pumpkin Spice Effect: Footfall Lift - 3 Wks After Pumpkin Spice Launch vs. 3 Wks Before

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The Global Reach of Pumpkin Spice

While Starbucks first introduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte in the US, they’ve since rolled out the PSL to markets internationally, with great success. Some markets show greater impact than others. While London Starbucks saw a 2% increase in footfall following the launch of the PSL, Tokyo saw a much more significant 13% uplift, and Mexico City saw a massive 23% lift in footfall.

The Global Impact of Starbucks' PSLs: Footfall Lift - 3 Wks After PSL Launch vs. 3 Wks Before

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How Deep Customer Insight Fuels QSR Innovation

Pumpkin Spice Lattes and its related treats have become a significant force in shaping fall offerings for QSRs. The data is clear: from Dunkin’s inventive collaborations to Starbucks’ global reach, pumpkin spice isn’t just a seasonal fad—it’s a QSR business strategy that only continues to grow. 

In this dynamic landscape, QSRs stand to gain immensely from deep customer insights when developing and marketing limited menu items. Coupled with up-to-date data analysis, these insights allow businesses to comprehend the nuanced impact of their strategies. The Pumpkin Spice Latte effect serves as a compelling testament to the profound influence a simple flavor can have on the business world. It underscores the transformative power of strategic marketing, emphasizing the vital role that data and customer understanding play in driving success in the fast-food industry.

Study Methodology

Near looked at consumer behavior data from July 1 – October 1 2023, for locations of Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Wendy’s in Boston, Miami and Seattle, as well as Starbucks locations in London, Tokyo and Mexico City. For footfall lift comparisons, Near looked at footfall data for locations during the 3 weeks before and after the launch of fall menu items, which vary by QSR and location.

Want to learn more about consumer shopping patterns? Download the report, The Great Generational Shopping Divide.
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