And, all of these elements are still, absolutely, part and parcel of this uniquely American, ghoulish celebration of all things having to do with the mash-up of ghosts, cheap candy and decorating houses with toilet paper.
But in the past decade or so, something else has hit.
Much like the 1950s sci-fi movieThe Blob (which also marked the film debut of ultra-cool dreamboat Steve McQueen), it creeps and spreads and swallows up everything in its path, invading every molecule of Halloween with astounding speed and efficiency. Moreover, it’s now making its debut in August, and it doesn’t even start to retreat until everything to do with Christmas is at full warp speed.
We’re talking pumpkin spice.
Don’t misunderstand me.
I like a good slice of pumpkin pie as much as anyone else, especially when it’s ice cold and homemade; topped with real whipped cream, and uses sweetened condensed milk as a key ingredient. I’m also okay with a piece of pumpkin bread a few times during the year, and roasted pumpkin seeds are fine, too. Actually, my savory pumpkin soup is topped with that very item.
But in 2003, everything began to change.
That’s when one mighty conglomerate decided to try its hand at something new. Depending on what side of the arena you’re standing in, the company achieved either astounding success—or made zillions of enemies.
Here are more details.
Fourteen years ago that spring, on the seventh floor of Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, a small group of employees was handed the secret task of coming up with a new flavor for autumn. Through the magic of chemistry, this same team had already invented Eggnog Latte and Peppermint Mocha; now, the powers that be wanted to add a fall beverage to
So, between forkfuls of pumpkin pie and gulps of hot espresso, they attempted to figure out what flavors best complemented their coffee.
After three months of making prototypes and conducting other kinds of tests, Pumpkin Spice Latte—also known as PSL—was born.
Later that year, Starbuck’s introduced the drink to 100 stores in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Washington, D.C. The beverage had a much wider rollout the next year, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. (A noteworthy addendum: the final result contained no actual pumpkin, and believe it or not, stayed that way until just two years ago.)
But PSL quickly became more, much more, than the newest drink in town.
That’s because Starbuck’s was also intent on giving the flavor its own brand—one that they hoped would evoke a sweet, rose-colored glasses view of the season.
Buy one of these drinks, and soon, you, too, would be privy to watching perfect orange leaves falling from perfect maple trees; buying the most awesome pumpkin from the best pumpkin patch ever, and experiencing sweater weather coziness, always with your forever mate beside you.
Traditional print, TV and radio advertising, but especially social media, helped the campaign along in a big way.
In fact, the beverage even has its own Twitter account (@TheReal PSL, with its profile photo the drink topped with whipped cream and wearing orange sunglasses), which means that someone in Seattle has to come up with new and witty things to say about a chemically laden, sugary high calorie drink on a nearly daily basis. As writing jobs go, it certainly wouldn’t be one I’d be thrilled to do, but what do I know?
But now, you don’t even have to like lattes to get gobbled up in the invasion.
That’s because, especially this month, pumpkin spice whatever-you-want seems to be, well, everywhere.
This seems mostly true at Trader Joe’s, which started in Los Angeles as a little niche place for wine, cheese and bread lovers, but is now a full-service grocery with nearly 500 stores across the country featuring employees wearing faux Hawaiian shirts. Boasting many of its own in-house labels, this year’s TJ’s offerings include pumpkin spice flavored coffee and tea, pancake mix, bagels, cookies, cold cereal, ice cream and biscotti.
Elsewhere, other markets are busy hawking pumpkin spice Oreos, organic kale chips (here’s an eewww to that one) and paleo protein powder (double eewww). One website I visited listed 65—yes, sixty-five—pumpkin spiced foods, with its list including pretzels, snack cakes, coffee creamer, yogurt and truffles.
However, you needn’t despair if you still can’t handle the idea of eating pumpkin spice.
That’s because you can still slather your body with it.
Yup, a recent shopping center visit found me agog in a national chain body shop store that was hawking pumpkin spice scrubs, moisturizers, bar soaps and hand lotions. Why anyone would want this scent all over themselves and in their hair is a mystery that even I, an admittedly nosy journalist, don’t want to solve. Sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the next few years, consumers will be able to indulge in pumpkin spice toothpaste, tampons and even motor oil.
(A Facebook chum has some of these fake items mixed in with the real stuff right here, at www.facebook.com/susan.jordan.5686/media_set?set=a.10206927037515021.1073741842.1250602537&type=3. Maybe you can spot the counterfeit ones—or maybe not.)
But, hey, that’s the corporate world for you.
Hand them a fad, and it’s bound to become a never-ending trend... one that apparently isn’t about to vanish anytime soon.
It’s pretty obvious what side of the circus tent I’m on when it comes to pumpkin spice. But what about you?
I look forward to your comments and stories!