The Seasonal Pumpkin Spice and Its Everlasting, Growing Economy

By Thomas Price Sunday, October 25, 2020

As fall begins to sweep the world, the many traditions of the season begin once again, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make 2020 vastly unique in comparison to nearly every other year. For many people, that means purchasing and consuming the many different pumpkin spice products available every autumn. With more and more on the market every year, the pumpkin spice economy has gone from just a joke to a major source of revenue with genuinely enormous sales behind it. Thus, it appears that a form of pumpkin spice tax has emerged to optimize that revenue from many different companies. Due to the intense popularity of the products, pumpkin spice products have begun to be marked up disproportionately to their non-pumpkin spice counterparts. Considering the fall is truly here, how large is the so-called pumpkin spice economy, and how much are companies marking up their products to take advantage of it?

The Pumpkin Spice Economy

The original creation of the large-scale pumpkin spice popularity today comes from Starbucks back in 2003, who innocuously introduced their now famous Pumpkin Spice Latte as a seasonal beverage like any other. In the following ten years after its introduction, Starbucks sold an astounding 200 million of them despite the drink only being available for a few months every year. By 2015, Starbucks was raking in $100 million from the Pumpkin Spice Latte alone. When including other companies’ own pumpkin spice beverages along with pumpkin spice foods, snacks, desserts, beers, and other novelty items, the entire industry was worth up to an estimated $500 million in 2015. By 2018, that number made another giant leap as it grew all the way up to $600 million — up 20% from just three years prior. These numbers were broken down into several different categories, with each being responsible for millions of dollars.

Items such as dog food brought in $109 million alone. Of course, actual pumpkin pie filling remained on top, being responsible for $130.6 million of the pumpkin spice revenue, with Starbucks not far behind at $110 million. From there, items ranging from ice cream all the way to cereal all brought in at least more than $10 million. Because of the major revenue to gain from such a massive variety of different products, many companies have begun taking advantage of this phenomenon by creating major markups on all sorts of pumpkin spice products.

The Pumpkin Spice Tax

In 2020, the price jumps on pumpkin spice variants of products was larger and wider than any year up to this point. In a study observing 40 different pumpkin spice items and the non-pumpkin spice alternative across six different retailers resulted in inconsistent but shocking results. While some products had no price change at all, many had significant ones. This led to the study’s conclusion that, on average, the pumpkin spice tax stood at around 8.8%. The most egregious example of a markup due to the flavor came from Whole Foods, where their 365 Everyday pumpkin spice cheesecake sandwich cremes were 175.1% more expensive than the non-pumpkin spice version of the exact same item. While perhaps that may be the single worst example, Whole Foods is not the worst overall offender of the pumpkin spice tax. That honor instead goes to Trader Joe’s, who has an average pumpkin spice tax of 17.8%. The tax has, in turn, been a clear example of how unrelentingly popular pumpkin spice is that despite the products being significantly more expensive, it does not appear to dissuade its many consumers from buying these seasonal items.

Final Conclusions

Pumpkin spice has reached astronomical levels of popularity. Within less than 20 years, it has become an entire section of economic revenue worth over $600 million a year. As this has taken place, the scope of products has continued to expand, with consumers being interested enough in them to sustain these expansions. The pumpkin spice tax is almost a natural result of companies testing the limits of how much people are willing to spend on these products before the demand begins to dwindle in response to the cost. However, as of right now, those who love the pumpkin spice foods will continue to buy them even as they rise in price.

About the Author


Headshot of Thomas Price

Tom Price is a writer focusing on Entertainment and Sports Features. He has a degree from NYU in English with a minor in Creative Writing. He has been previously published for Washington Square News, Dignitas, CBR, and Numbers on the Boards.

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