Locating Starbucks’ Cult Of Pumpkin Spice Latte

It may look like everyone you know loudly bemoans the return of the fall-flavored beverage, but Starbucks' share of the national QSR market jumped when PSL was released earlier this month. Sense360 has the numbers.

Starbucks doesn’t typically share sales numbers for its menu items, but analysis by app engagement specialist Sense360 indicates that the coffee chain’s promotion of its occasionally derided Pumpkin Spice Latte release helped boost in-store visits by almost 7 percent.

In Seattle, Starbucks visits in its hometown during the first week in September (the time frame when PSL was rolled out) increased by 9 percent. In New York, visits jumped 6.8 percent, while in Los Angeles — where it never feels like fall — traffic rose by 3 percent.

Source: Sense360
Source: Sense360

In addition, the first-day store visits on Sept. 5 and 6 peaked at 8am — a full four hours earlier than usual, said Sense360 CEO and founder Eli Portnoy, who shared the findings of the company’s analysis of 2 million anonymous app users with GeoMarketing.

In a blog post, Sense360 described the deep appeal for the 13-year-old Starbucks item by noting that the Seattle chain was able to eat into Dunkin Donuts’ customer base — even on the latter coffee chain’s New England turf.

During the week before September 6, Dunkin’ Donuts held nearly 72 percent of the local QSR coffee market in Boston. In comparison, Starbucks was a mere 26 percent. During the week since the return of PSL, however, Dunkin’ Donuts saw traffic drop by 5 percent to 67 percent.

At the same time, Starbucks’ Boston traffic gained 4 percent to hit 30 percent. It would be quite a coincidence of that was unrelated.

Nevertheless, the question for Starbucks — and its competitors, which also include other coffee purveyors like Canadian franchise Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s.

Given the substantial market Power of PSL after all these years, Starbucks would seem unlikely to change course for years to come,” Portnoy says. “The PSL  demonstrates the potential advantages of seasonal offerings for QSRs, which could be strategically timed to garner foot traffic and consumer attention, in addition to bolstering consumer loyalty.”

As a pioneer of mobile pay and online-to-offline marketing generally, Starbucks is known for pushing the envelope in ways that brands can — and probably can’t — adopt. (How many brands aside from McDonald’s could anthropomorphize a menu item into a character? Check out the Time “profile” of the Facebook Chatbot Starbucks called The Real PSL created for this year’s promotion.)

In other words, for all the social media derision directed at Starbucks’ pumpkin latte, it’s only driving the drink’s devotion that much deeper and extended the company’s promotions.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.