This article would start with “It’s that time of the year again,” but honestly, is it? Regardless of the fact that it is technically still summer, the heat has yet to stifle the outpouring of marketing campaigns for fall flavors, which seem to get increasingly elaborate every year. In the land of sweet and spicy fall flavors, the pumpkin spiced latte remains a holy grail of nutmeg and cinnamon fusion. Customers are not only being encouraged to try pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks, but to pay homage to fall flavors on various social media platforms to garner blessings from king pumpkin.

On August 17, Dunkin’ Donuts launched its PumpkinGrams Twitter and Instagram campaign, which offers a chance to receive their first pumpkin beverage of the season on the house if they express their excitement for Dunkin’s Pumpkin Coffees and Lattes with the hashtag #DDPumpkin.

While pumpkin is still on top, the brisk autumnal winds of change are still stirring up some innovation within fall menus, and even with old mainstays. For instance, Starbucks has made the decision to include real pumpkin as an ingredient in its popular fall lattes, spelling a subtle change in consumer tastes. Panera is also on-board with the trend toward real ingredients and transparency, presenting its own Pumpkin Spice Latte with no artificial colors, preservatives, flavors, or sweeteners.

In a flavor world bustling with sour/tart and sweet/spicy combinations, ciders, chai-spiced items, and even warm lemonades are seeing an uptick in growth as well, finding their place among fall menu mainstays, which branding expert and CEO of BFG Communication Kevin Meany says have become as indicative of the season as holiday decorations.

“I look at something like the pumpkin latte as no different than putting up your Christmas lights or pumpkins at Halloween,” he says. “There are certain items that have just really become a cultural movement.”

Meany says that while offering popular flavors is important, the best way to find success in the crowded market is to do something distinct to bring in new customers.

“The battle lies in differentiation—you have to be relevant, but unique,” Meany says. “Don’t just roll out a pumpkin spiced latte because they’re doing it down the street. It won’t pay off in the same way that adding something totally new and unique to your location will.”

As seasonal menus start to shift, Meany encourages experimentation with fresh iterations on warming fall flavors. While many continue to brainstorm, here’s a look at what a few brands have already unveiled to start the season:

  • Tropical Smoothie Café: The Spiced Pear Smoothie, featuring a combination of pear, grapes, blueberries, roasted banana, chia seeds, and cinnamon.
  • Dairy Queen: The Pumpkin Pie Blizzard Treat, made from the combination of pumpkin pie pieces blended into classic DQ soft serve, finished with whipped topping and nutmeg.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts: The Pumpin Donut and Munchkins Donut Hole Treat.
  • Tim Hortons Café & Bake Shop: The Apple Pie Fritter, Apple Fritter Timbit, and the Hot Apple Cider Supreme.

And, in case you were wondering, the first official day of fall is September 23. 

By Emily Byrd

Beverage, Consumer Trends, Marketing & Promotions, Menu Innovations, News, Dairy Queen, Dunkin' Donuts, Panera Bread, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Tropical Smoothie Cafe