Pumpkin spice and all things autumn have found their way onto the menus of many a quick-service operator. It might appear that the seasonal market is rolling toward oversaturation, but new data from the NPD Group shows that fall flavors boost sales and foot traffic.
“The fall is a time that we are preparing ourselves for winter. I actually think there is a correlation to [these flavors] instinctually,” says Chef Dave Woolley of culinary consultancy CD Culinary approach and who served as executive chef at Red Robin for six years. “We as developers … think about the things that allure to us and conjure that stuff up.”
According to the NPD Group, the average check for pumpkin latte buyers was $7.81, compared to $6.67 for non-buyers. In considering visit frequency, the group examined a major chain that offered a seasonal shake and found that LTO buyers made 6.7 visits during the promotion period compared with 4.7 visits for those who did not purchase the shake.
While pumpkin-flavored LTOs do harken to the comforting and nourishing notes of autumn, Woolley says it “has probably gotten a bit carried away.” Nevertheless, he says the timing of these seasonal specialties does coincide well with a traditionally slow period in October and early November.
“It’s not as busy a time of the year, and therefore, how do we get more people into our restaurants? How do we allow folks to feel good about coming in and visiting and frequenting our place?” Woolley says.
As QSR reported in late August, brands with established autumn offerings have upped the ante—both Starbucks and Panera added real pumpkin to their spice lattes this year—while other brands entered the autumn arena for the first time, bringing new flavors like a Spiced Pear Smoothie from Tropical Smoothie Café and Apple Pie Fritters from Tim Hortons.
For operators who wish to delve deeper into the flavor palette, Woolley suggests ingredients with earthy notes like squash, stew flavors, forest mushrooms, red wine, and heavy herbs like rosemary. He also has recommendations for sweet alternatives to pumpkin.
“Maple is definitely one that hits that point. Butter could definitely be in there because it conjures up baking and baking conjures up fall and winter,” Woolley says. “Spices particularly bring out something about the autumn.”
By Nicole Duncan