As a heat wave bears down on parts of the country, what could be better than wrapping your sweaty palms around a steaming pumpkin-flavored latte?
If that is not your idea of summer fun, take it up with the coffee and doughnut chain that now goes by the name Dunkin’, which announced on Monday that it was “stepping up the seasonal celebration” by offering its fall spread almost a week earlier than last year.
Eight Dunkin’ stores will be temporarily rebranded as “Pumpkin” on Wednesday. They will serve free pumpkin-flavored beverages and “Munchkins lip balm” with a pumpkin scent. Yes, you read that right.
Two new products will also be on offer: apple cider doughnuts and a signature pumpkin-flavored latte with cinnamon and sugar, clearly intended as a rival to Starbucks’s popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, which may also be arriving earlier than in the past. A latte war is brewing.
Don’t blame climate change for the early arrival of the gourds.
“Every year during the peak of summer our guests begin to tell us they are ready for their pumpkin fix,” Dunkin’ said in a statement, adding that annual sales of pumpkin-flavored products hit an all-time high in 2018.
But is it too soon? Local television and radio stations posed the question to Twitter users, with mixed results.
Some were in favor, like Allison Hopkins of Jacksonville, Fla., where temperatures were in the 90s on Tuesday. “I woke up with a distinct craving for a pumpkin spice latte and scarf season,” she wrote.
But for others, it was too soon to be thinking about orange foliage, autumn walks and Halloween.
Like holiday creep, pumpkin creep is real.
In recent years, pumpkin-flavored Cheerios, cookies and candies have appeared on store shelves long before Halloween. Whether real pumpkin is actually used by manufacturers in all of these products is subject for debate. One thing is sure: Pumpkins and pumpkin spice are not the same.
A Dunkin’ spokeswoman confirmed that the beverages contained no actual fruit: “Our pumpkin coffee and lattes are made with pumpkin spice flavoring similar to that used in pumpkin pie. We use real pumpkin in our seasonal baked goods, including pumpkin doughnuts and muffins.”
All the marketing experts we called were on vacation, so we will remind readers what Liz Dunn, founder of Talmage Advisors, a brand strategy consulting firm, once told The New York Times: The makers of pumpkin spice products were trying to capitalize on consumers’ urge to engage with and discuss limited-time offerings via social media. So it’s only natural companies would try to introduce the flavor earlier each year.
“If companies can get people to do it for a longer period of time, it can only increase relevance,” she said. “That’s brand magic right there — unless, of course, it backfires.” She said that in 2017, so we guess that it hasn’t.
Indeed, Starbucks has introduced its Pumpkin Spice Latte earlier and earlier each year since the debut in 2003.
The PSL, as it is known in pumpkin lover circles, remains the company’s most popular seasonal beverage, Starbucks says. It is sold in 50 countries and has even inspired people to bathe in it.
Business Insider has been reading the tea leaves, so to speak, and spotted Starbucks employees spilling the beans on social media that pumpkin spiced lattes would return on Aug. 27, the earliest date ever. The reporter even tweeted out a chart of start dates going back to 2011.
A spokesman for Starbucks declined to confirm the date.
“We’re not quite ready to reveal our plans for this year,” the spokesman said in an email to The Times, adding, “But if you’re looking for a reason to celebrate the season, stop by your nearest grocery store and pick up one of our fall products.” Pumpkin spice creamer! Pumpkin spice cookie straws!
He also suggested visiting a Facebook group hosted by the company called the Leaf Rakers Society, which is described as “a forum where we constructively work together with Mother Nature to help autumn arrive earlier in the calendar year.”
Over at Dunkin’, the company is wasting no time. By Aug. 21, more than a month before the autumn equinox, stores nationwide will carry the complete fall menu. The doughnut company did not name the places where the rebranded outlets would be, but the initial letters of each city and town will spell out the word P-U-M-P-K-I-N-’.
On Tuesday around lunchtime, customers at a Dunkin’ store in Midtown Manhattan were oblivious that pumpkin season was imminent. None of the nearly two dozen patrons polled had stopped in looking for pumpkin products.
“In August?” asked a man named Andrew, who lives on the Upper West Side. He ordered a cafe au lait and said he preferred his drinks without any flavoring.
Behind the counter, Christopher De Leon, who has been working at the location for about a year, confirmed that customers had indeed been known to request the pumpkin-flavored drinks in July.
Mr. De Leon said the store should offer pumpkin syrup year-round. “Just keep it,” he said.