2 Min Read
Creating the Pumpkin Spice Latte
Pumpkin Spice SPAM is a real thing.
Most credit Starbucks with kicking off the pumpkin spice craze. But 20 years ago, the Pumpkin Spice Latte almost missed its shot.
Looking to build on the success of holiday drinks like Peppermint Mocha, Starbucks set about coming up with a signature fall flavor. The R&D team gathered in “The Liquid Lab,” a secret location inside Starbucks HQ, and developed 20 autumn flavor combos.
Then, Starbucks surveyed customers online and planned to test the four flavors with the most votes.
Pumpkin spice didn’t make the cut.
People preferred flavors like chocolate caramel and orange spice – or at least they thought they did.
But Starbucks Director of Espresso Peter Dukes saw gold in them there gourds.
“Trust me. Let us play with it. I’ve seen what’s out there in the market, and there’s nothing like it.”
– Peter Dukes, Starbucks Director of Espresso and PSL innovator
A PSL By Any Other Name
Legend has it Dukes and his team would take a bite of pumpkin pie and chase it with a sip of hot espresso. They spent weeks testing different spice combos and textures before landing on a go-to-market blend.
The final ingredient was the name. Fall Harvest Latte was the leading contender. It captured the sentiment behind the drink, but didn’t tell you what it would taste like. Pumpkin Spice Latte, on the other hand, described the flavors while capturing the drink’s seasonal essence.
Starbucks tested the drink in 100 stores. It was an immediate and lasting success. To date, Starbucks has sold more than 424 million in the U.S. alone.
Today, Starbucks’ PSL marketing strategy is anything but basic, with social media campaigns and hashtags that get people excited for a drink that’s come to mark the unofficial kickoff of fall.
And it’s all thanks to Peter Dukes.
Taking a cue from Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, Dukes saw opportunity in serving customers something they didn’t know they wanted. But he recognized that taking that chance meant he had to spend even more time researching and refining the finished product.