Quick-service operators are launching seasonal menu items earlier this fall in an effort to beat their competition to the punch. From pumpkin doughnuts to caramel apple frozen yogurt, fall-flavored menu items are popping up across the industry even before the season has officially begun.

“We usually launch [fall products] in October. But this year, for the first time, we are bringing them out in September,” says Lafeea Watson, spokeswoman for Krispy Kreme. “That’s what the industry seems to be doing.”

In early September, Krispy Kreme rolled out its traditional Pumpkin Spice Doughnut and Pumpkin Spice Latte, and also unveiled a new Pumpkin Cheesecake Doughnut. In fact, Krispy Kreme teased the two seasonal doughnuts on its Pinterest page two weeks before the items were available in stores.

“The two flavors are fully focused on flavor and crave-abilty, so we are relying on a lot of social media and word of mouth,” Watson says.

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt launched its Pumpkin Pie, Caramel Apple, and Chocolate Snickerdoodle frozen-yogurt flavors in late August. “Last year, we introduced [fall products] later and noticed that all of our competitors had introduced them very early,” says Carrie Pemberton, director of franchisee relations for Orange Leaf. “It really felt like, if consumers want fall flavors, we should be offering them.”

Orange Leaf is tying in the marketing for its new fall flavors with the launch of its “Orange Leaf To Go” program, which starts October 1. Customers can purchase pre-packaged pints of to-go containers or cookie sandwiches filled with Orange Leaf fro-yo from their local store to take home.

“Pumpkin is clearly dominating, as are chocolate, salted caramel, caramel apple, and buffalo flavors.”

“We are trying to align those two, such as featuring Chocolate Snickerdoodle in a frozen-yogurt cookie sandwich or Pumpkin Pie yogurt in a to-go container,” Pemberton says.

Fall food and beverage flavors lean heavily on pumpkin, caramel apple, and apple flavors. “Pumpkin is clearly dominating, as are chocolate, salted caramel, caramel apple, and buffalo flavors,” says Lizzy Freier, an editor at foodservice consulting firm Technomic, noting that buffalo flavors are popular because of the football season.

Starbucks brought back its popular Pumpkin Spice Latte but also introduced a new Chocolate Chai Tea Latte this fall. In early September, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced a new Pumpkin Pie Doughnut—a buttercream-filled, pumpkin-flavored, yeast doughnut topped with icing and graham cracker crumbs—as well as its frozen Pumpkin Coffee Coolattas. The doughnut chain also brought back its Pumpkin Donut, Pumpkin Muffin, and pumpkin-flavored coffees and lattes.

Krispy Kreme introduced its new Pumpkin Cheesecake Doughnut this fall based on consumer research.

“Our cheesecake products—and any filled products—do very well. Plus, adding the gingersnap cookie crumbles on the top really appealed to our consumers,” Watson says. Krispy Kreme’s traditional Halloween-themed doughnuts also sell very well in the fall, she says.

In a unique twist on the pumpkin trend, Atlanta-based Stevi B’s Pizza recently re-launched its Pumpkin Pie Pizza, which features warm pumpkin pie filling and is drizzled with sweet icing. 

“This is our fourth year offering it, and we notice an increase in sales every year. Last year, we ran out,” says Allyson Smith, CMO of Stevi B’s Pizza. The seasonal pie is available through November 5.

Stevi B’s is promoting the Pumpkin Pie Pizza primarily through social media and limited in-store merchandising. “As we use social media more, our customers chatter about our Pumpkin Pie Pizza more,” Smith says. “We have very strong brand advocates and, through a lot of our new product introductions, they will campaign for us.”

Despite the popularity of pumpkin and caramel apple flavors, they are not the only themes drawing in consumers this fall. Burger King launched a new French Fry Burger, which features its flame-broiled beef patty topped with french fries, for $1. BK also brought back its Chicken Parmesan Sandwich and Buffalo Chicken Strips.

“We expect to see flavors associated with popular football snacks during the fall,” Freier says. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, for example, are offering a Buffalo Blue Cheese Burger and Buffalo Chicken Tenders.

As the weather gets cooler, quick-serve operators are also ramping up soup selections. Orlando-based Hawkers Asian Street Fare is adding Shoyu Ramen Noodle Soup, a traditional ramen noodle soup bowl with soy sauce added.

“Though delicious on its own, ramen is all about the toppings,” says Kaleb Harrell, owner of Hawkers. “This one will incorporate bean sprouts, scallions, char siu (barbecue-roasted pork), and lop cheung (Chinese sausage).”

Beverage, Burgers, Desserts, Menu Innovations, Pizza, Web Exclusives, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Dunkin' Donuts, Hardee's, Krispy Kreme, Orange Leaf, Starbucks, Stevi B's Pizza