The Pumpkin Spice Latte: A Fall Juggernaut
Ahhh, fall is upon us—a time for leaf peeping, apple picking, and sipping pumpkin spice lattes. With the change of seasons, it might be a nice time to reflect on RIViR, which has processed millions of records over the years. Over here at Qlarant, the rise of the pumpkin spice latte is similar to RIViR’s rise and the tide of analytics applications riding on Big Data. Once upon a time, the now ubiquitous flavor of the season wasn’t a sure thing. Billions of dollars later, Starbucks’ little autumn experiment turns 20 this year and has solidified its place among knee high boots and Taylor Swift for the fall equinox.
The “Swamp” Is Filled with Pumpkin Spice Latte
My fall reflection gave me time to think about beginnings.
At Qlarant, our engineers spent months designing and architecting new ways of integrating data analytics, visuals, and workflow technology for a new way of using data to solve problems. After all of that work, Risk Identification, Visualization, and Resolution came together to create RIViR. With a dash of machine learning algorithms.
The PSL, as its affectionately (or derisively) nicknamed, is Starbucks’ second seasonal beverage experiment. Its first blockbusting beverage, Starbucks’ words, was the previous year’s winter favorite, the Peppermint Mocha.
Similarly, Starbucks Beverage Lab engineers and scientists toiled for 3 months to craft their own fall seasonal hit. Legend has it, they ate pounds of pumpkin pie and sipped espresso to understand how the flavors combined. Good things come in threes and their hard work resulted in a concoction of espresso, steamed milk, and pumpkin spice sauce. They finished the drink with whipped cream and a dash of . That’s right. The first pumpkin spice lattes contained no pumpkin flavor. Pumpkin flavor wasn’t added until 2015.
Starbucks tested the PSL 20 years ago in 100 stores in Washington, DC (the “Swamp”) and Vancouver, British Columbia. Washington, DC is considered a stuffy, working town and any shiny new thing is instantly gobbled up. Senators, staffers, and wonks went nuts for the drink making it an instant hit in the halls of Congress. DC journalists would go on to describe the 2016 Election Day sunrise, “the color of pumpkin spice latte.” (The Washington Post, Nov 9, 2016)
Billions and Billions Served
Folks either love or hate the PSL and everything it stands for. The Internet is loaded with lovers of the fall drink and others clowning the libation for exposing our most basic instincts (Taylor Swift on Instagram). Social media accounts have been setup to celebrate a spice-tinged version of the world’s most celebrated psychoactive substance (If Coffee Commercials Were Honest—YouTube). Pumpkin spice latte has over 81,000 followers on X/Twitter and 26,000 followers on a blue-checked Instagram account.
20 years and millions of Instagram posts later, the PSL brings in $100 million to Starbucks’ coffers every fall through a whopping 600 million cups. These numbers are huge in the greater pumpkin spice marketplace. The PSL has created an entire pumpkin spice industry with hundreds of copycat drinks and thousands of pumpkin spicy foods. Americans drop an estimated $803 million in pumpkin and pumpkin spiced food and drinks a year. The drink is such a driver of big bucks, the research firm NPD Group discovered consumers who bought the drink spent $1.14 more during their visits.
Before you start sipping your $6 PSL keep your waistline in mind. A Grande PSL contains 52 grams of carbs and 380 calories. An Everything Bagel packs the same carbs with a lower calorie hit. Apple picking and walking through the orchard may not make up for those calories.
But, you know what? Let the haters hate. As you look out the window while your shiny new algorithm is running through RIViR’s subsystems, reach for your PSL and sip it with pride. Gaze at the orangey brown leaves and take comfort. You are one of millions who relish cooler temperatures to feel warm and cozy from a seasonal coffee drink. Take a deep breath and smell the cinnamon scented candle on your desk. Let RIViR handle your data analytics work and enjoy pumpkin spiced flavor country.