Seasonal beverages move beyond pumpkin

Last month brought the first day of fall but autumn-flavored drinks hit the menu even before we turned off the air conditioning, unpacked our sweaters and made plans to go apple picking. Tis the season to sip the flavors of fall, from pumpkin spice almond milk at Trader Joe’s to the Pumpkin Spice Nitro Latte at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to beers based on the iconic autumnal gourd.  

Starbucks is credited for the perennial resurgence of the fall pumpkin drink craze. The chain began developing its pumpkin spice latte more than a decade ago and for many flavored-coffee fans the drink has come to signal the start of the new season. The creation also launched a national love affair with pumpkin that seems to renew itself each autumn.

Since its launch in 2003, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has evolved to include pureed pumpkin, led rivals including Dunkin’ Donuts to create their own pumpkin-flavored fall concoctions and driven innovation of new fall and winter drink flavors. Last week, Starbucks even launched a limited-time pumpkin spice whipped topping to celebrate the drink’s 13th birthday. The chain also put its ready-to-drink Pumpkin Spice Frappuccinos on grocery store shelves this fall and launched a line of pumpkin spice latte K-cups this year.

Fall and winter specialty drinks can be an indulgence that drives customer traffic and boosts the average check size, according to research released by NPD Group last fall. About 8% of consumers who bought pumpkin spice lattes did so at least three times during the season, and additional food purchases along with the drinks pushed the average check higher.

Pumpkin beer a passing fad?

Pumpkin was also an increasingly popular seasonal flavor with beer drinkers, at least until last fall. Demand for pumpkin-flavored ales and other autumnal beers starts to grow in August and peaks in September and early October – right about now, according to data compiled last year by the Brewers Association.

The number of new flavored beers on the market jumped 80% between 2010 and 2015, according to Mintel.

But there are also signs that beer drinkers’ interest in pumpkin-flavored brews may be waning. Last month, Forbes reported that brewers cut back dramatically on production of their pumpkin beers this fall, after demand for the specialty beverages fell significantly last year. Pumpkin’s popularity led to an oversupply of the beers, the story said.

This year, distributors ordered less of the seasonal beverages after losing money when too much of last year’s crop was still sitting on store shelves in May, and brewers including Samuel Adams and Maine’s Shipyard Brewing made smaller batches.

Craft beer sales were still up 16% last year and other seasonal flavors pick up steam as fall turns to winter, according to the Brewers Association, including darker, warming brews such as stout which grows more popular in November and December as the days grow shorter and colder.

Not a pumpkin fan?

Pumpkin may be the most talked about flavor this time of year but it’s not the only one. Cinnamon, cloves and eggnog abound. Apple-picking season means fresh cider. Starbucks’ winter latte menu includes flavors such as Caramel Brulee and Christmas Cookie.

And those looking to warm their winter days with something other than coffee and beer have new options – this week, Delish touted the delights of drinking caramel as an alternative to hot chocolate.

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