Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice has become a cultural phenomenon in the United States, as the fall flavor continues to show up in a variety of products from cereals and yogurt to K-Cups and Pop Tarts.
With no particular holiday tied to pumpkin spice season—like candy corn for Halloween or peppermint for Christmas—pumpkin spice is all about fall feelings. Crunchy leaves, football games, flannel shirts and apple picking just feel better with a pumpkin-spiced product in hand, giving businesses free reign to start stocking up on cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice, even if the temperatures haven’t dropped to sweater weather.
As pumpkin spice products show up on grocery store shelves as early as June, and Starbucks starts serving up their infamous Pumpkin Spice Lattes before September hits, this fall menu favorite is back—but is it better than ever? Whether you think the flavor trend is as stale as a day-old pumpkin muffin or you start your day with a #PSL on brisk autumn mornings, data shows that pumpkin spice isn’t going anywhere.
Has Pumpkin Spice Peaked?
In 2017, Upserve analyzed ordering and sales trends from more than 300 restaurants in 43 states from 2015 to 2017. The results proved that pumpkin spice fans still have an opportunity to indulge in their favorite pumpkin beers or desserts.
As reported by Restaurant Insider last year, when menus increased their number of pumpkin products by 60 percent, pumpkin sales increased more than 80 percent. The same happened in 2015 when an 84.13 percent increase in the number of pumpkin products accounted for an increase in pumpkin sales of 116.59 percent.
A short, seasonal window of enjoyment may be part of the allure, food and beverage industry trendologist Kara Nielsen tells Cooking Light. “There always were these seasonal flavors offered for a limited time as a way to drive business. Fast food does it all the time,” she says, pointing to the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake.
Whether you think the flavor trend is as stale as a day-old pumpkin muffin or you start your day with a #PSL on brisk autumn mornings, data shows that pumpkin spice isn’t going anywhere.
While many chefs and bartenders are tired of the pumpkin spice craze, many are leaning into it, keeping customers at the forefront of their menu-making process. Eli Shapiro, bar manager at Rail Stop Restaurant & Bar, revealed his feelings about pumpkin spice, telling Restaurant Insider, “Not only do we represent the classics here at Rail Stop, but we also cater to what the people want. The demand is there and we are proud to represent.” Rail Stop has a signature cocktail, the Pumpkin Up, made of tequila-based cream cordial Vespertino, house-made pumpkin puree, and Crop organic spiced pumpkin vodka. Shapiro describes it as “sugar and spice and everything nice.” “It’s creamy, delicious and balanced,” he says. “The sweetness of the cordials and puree are cut by the spice of the cinnamon powder. It is aesthetically pleasing with our presentation and just plain fun.”
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He believes that pumpkin in here to stay, telling Restaurant Insider, “I personally think that the pumpkin craze is going strong.” As for consumer opinion, time will only tell what flavor reigns supreme in 2018.
10 Pumpkin Spice Day Restaurant Marketing Ideas
If you’re all in on pumpkin spice, we have some good news for you: Pumpkin Spice Day is celebrated every year on Oct. 1. This is your opportunity to draw pumpkin-crazed customers in to your restaurant and serve up some spicy specials and pumpkin-themed promotions. Even if you don’t have season pumpkin spice menu items readily available, you still have time to plan ahead and create a campaign to celebrate.
- Instagram is where you’ll want to focus your Pumpkin Spice Day marketing initiatives. Use a mix of organic and promoted posts to spread the word about your pumpkin menu items, or let customers know if you have a promotion planned for the big day.
- Take #FoodPorn to another level by offering a free or discounted menu item for any customers that use a unique hashtag and tag your store in a photo.
- Run a special promotion on flights of pumpkin beers. With so many to choose from, let your customers choose four or six autumn brews to try.
- If you’re not active on Instagram (which you should be), reach your audience by posting about your special promotions on Facebook. Don’t forget to interact with your audience in the comments section for a boost in engagement.
- Offer a free pumpkin-themed cocktail to customers who come clad in their favorite orange attire.
- Take dressing up a step further with a pumpkin-themed costume contest. This fun, interactive activity will surely bring some smiles to your customers’ faces.
- Run a contest on your social media platform of choice to show your customers some love. Raffle off a prize, such as a free drink coupon or a gift card, to show your social media fans to show just how much you appreciate them.
- Make it a family affair with child-friendly activities such as face painting, games and coloring pages for children during dinner.
- Take your decor up a notch and add some pumpkin-themed flair to your tables. Share photos on Instagram to draw in pumpkin-loving guests.
- If you’re feeling festive and want to throw pumpkin spice the celebration you feel it deserves, go all-out with a pumpkin-themed party. Bringing together the customers keeping the pumpkin spice craze alive will appreciate your dedication to the fall trend and join in on the fun.
Fall Food and Beverage Menu Trends
If you’re over all-things pumpkin spice and want to delight your guests with exciting new fall menu flavors, check out these four emerging fall menu trends to work into your autumn menu:
We started to see maple rise in the fall menu flavor rankings in 2017 and some believe it has the power to dethrone pumpkin spice in 2018. With sweet and savory applications in both food and beverage menu items, maple has a wide range. Whether a bartender is stirring maple syrup into a whiskey cocktail or a pastry chef is whipping up a sweet maple pecan treat, this flavor is a top contender in the battle of fall flavors.
According to Forbes, yuca, a starchy root vegetable, is on the rise on fall menus. With the versatility of a potato, it’s up 14.3 percent year over year and is being incorporated in pizza dough, hashes and waffles as a gluten-free alternative. Chefs have an opportunity to either incorporate yuca with or swap it in for other popular fall root veggies like carrots and parsnips.
Turmeric has been popping up on food and drink menus in 2018, which comes to no surprise as its has surged in popularity as a health food trend. The bright yellow spice is making appearances in salad dressings, juices, lattes and other menu items. With a flavor profile similar to ginger, the spice is popular in fall comfort foods in restaurants that consider wellness when crafting menu items.
Figs were named “Flavor of the Year” by Swiss-based company Firmenich—the self-proclaimed “world’s largest privately-owned company in the fragrance and flavor business.” “A true feel-good flavor, fig is becoming increasingly popular with consumers, with fig flavored products growing by more than 80 percent between 2012 and 2016,” Chris Millington, president of Firmenich, Flavors, told Food & Wine. “With its numerous health benefits and sweet and satisfying flavor profile, fig offers endless opportunities to inspire our customers and delight their consumers across a wide range of food categories.” Luckily for chefs, this complex yet versatile fruit is ideal for creative applications and is in season during fall months.
Whether you’re in or out on featuring this fall flavor in your restaurant or bar, know this to be true: Pumpkin spice is still King of the Fall and consumer demand is still there, regardless of how basic some think it might be.