10 September 2019 | pacts insight | Views:

The Pumpkin Spice Phenomenon: coffee trends & young people

There’s only three reactions you’re likely to have when you read the words “pumpkin spice”: excitement, derision, or - miraculously - no reaction at all. We say ‘miraculously’ because pumpkin spice is kind of a big deal. And that’s thanks to (and lucky for) Starbucks.

The rise of fall-themed drinks

In 2003, looking for a seasonal drink to come before their various Christmas offerings, they came up with the autumnal-themed drink that would become a star. And in doing so, they “helped to brand an entire season”. And now, whenever it gets to this time of year, you’re bound to see articles like this heralding its return to their menu. Its popularity has even lead to a spate of pumpkin spice-flavoured goods - from ice cream to spam (disturbingly).

But as with anything popular, not everyone is a fan - and the hatred of pumpkin spice became almost as much as a phenomenon as people’s passion for it. But what’s the deal with flavoured coffees anyway?

Coffee and millennials

It’s official. Young people are becoming a bigger, and bigger part of the coffee market. A whopping 44% of US coffee drinkers are millennials, and the 13-to-18-year old group is the fastest growing! And trends like flavoured coffee could been seen as both a result, and a cause of this.

More evidence that young adults are making up a large part of the market is high profile criticism of that fact itself. Their increased appetite for coffee has been called out as frivolous spending, and the real cause of plummeting homeowner figures (ignoring the falling salaries and rising house prices of this era…). But despite the backlash, it’s a market shift that seems to be here to stay.

What kind of coffee do young people like?

‘Common knowledge’ might suggest that it’s sugary, squirty cream-covered drinks along the lines of pumpkin spice, peppermint, or caramel…

But some research suggests that’s not what’s driving consumers. A foot traffic analysis showed that, in 2018, the re-introduction of pumpkin spice didn’t cause a spike in visits to Starbucks - as might have been expected.

Maybe the buzz finally burned out, but other analysis did point towards something different that’s motivating consumers. A similar study showed a 20% increase in visitors to Burger King stores when they introduced their vegetarian Impossible Burger - and that lines up perfectly with a recorded uplift in sustainability motivating shoppers.

The rise of socially conscious consumers

It’s an observed phenomenon: young people are (at least publicly) becoming more concerned about social and environmental issues. From Greta Thunberg to school kids striking about climate change, you’ve probably seen this yourself.

And research confirms it - showing that “three out of four millennials are willing to pay more for products that are ethical and sustainable” and 80% of millennials believe companies should be judged on their contributions to the world, socially and environmentally.

This ‘trend’ for being earth-conscious has been felt in the coffee world too, with ‘Fairtrade’ and ‘Sustainably Grown’ becoming buzzwords people care about. It’s clear that providing ethically sourced coffee is just going to get more, and more important.

What does this mean for your business?

Fads come and go, and pumpkin spice is one of them. But it did show both the power of good marketing, and that the market is smart to respond to new audiences - like by providing sweeter, more palatable, social media-friendly drinks to a growing youth audience.

It also suggests that prioritising other things that consumers respond to - namely, coffee that’s kind to the world - is a sensible move. Young people are aware of ethics, and are demonstrably taking it into account with their buying practices.

How Pact can help

Our coffee is as earth and people-friendly as they come. It also tastes delicious - with taste notes we think rival any syrups or flavourings. But we’re not killjoys. We know sometimes you just crave a mocha, and that’s OK too - we’ve got your back, and can usually sort you out if needed. Just in a more sustainable way.


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