New Data Sheds Light On How Popular Starbucks' Fall Menu Actually Is

It's not quite the season of the witch yet, but it is the season for all things pumpkin spice and it may have already put its spell on you. So says retail analytics platform, who recently did a deep dive on all things pumpkin spice, analyzing the data of two of the biggest pumpkin spice potion purveyors: Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. took a look at the effects that fall menu launches had on each quick service restaurant's foot traffic and the results, while epic, were not entirely surprising (at least to anyone who's been in a Starbucks during Pumpkin Spice Latte season). analyzed each chain's average visits five weeks prior to their fall menu launch and compared them with traffic seven days post-launch. For the years 2019, 2021, and 2022, visits to each of these coffee chains increased with the release of fall menus. This year, Starbucks saw the biggest increase, with a 25.7% jump in just the first seven days post-menu launch while Dunkin' saw a 9.5% boost in the same timeframe. 

While acknowledges that there may have been some other factors at play here (such as back-to-school and the mild easing of inflation's grip in the last two months (via Moneywise), increased traffic to these popular pumpkin spice-friendly chains shows that the evidence is clear: Fall menu items and drinks are getting consumers through the door this time of year.

Pumpkin spice and everything nice

After releasing this year's fall menu in late August, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told investors that Starbucks had its "highest record sales week" in its 51-year history. While some laid that win at the feet of rabid Pumpkin Spice Latte fans (via Restaurant Business), this year's menu not only included Starbuck's iconic beverage, but also their 2019-released Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, the Apple Crisp Macchiato (now with oat milk and Blonde Espresso via Starbucks), which debuted last year, and bakery items like the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin, the Pumpkin Scone, and the year-round Pumpkin Loaf, all of which likely added to the pumpkin-rich revelry and sales-bursting record. 

So what makes pumpkin spice so nice? The answer might surprise you.

According to Boston-based psychologist Matt Johnson, who specializes in marketing psychology, people love the flavor of pumpkin because it "is just so closely tied to the arrival of fall and the nostalgic, wholesome vibes of both family and the leaves changing" (via Fox News). According to Johnson, it is because of these inadvertent associations between fall and pumpkin spice, built directly into our brain's medial temporal lobe, that places like Starbucks and Dunkin' are capitalizing on with their autumnal themed menus. 

Since its release in 2003, Johnson says one of the most important elements of the Pumpkin Spice Latte's success is that Starbucks kept the drink seasonal. This marketing reinforcement links them in an "associative network," in the brain. So, whether you think fall or pumpkin spice, the association is triggered.