Pumpkin Spice Tax: How Much More You’ll Pay in 2020, From Trader Joe’s to Starbucks

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Updated on Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The end of summer brings a number of changes, from turning leaves to cooler weather — and all things pumpkin spice. Previous research from MagnifyMoney has shown that those who love pumpkin spice were paying heavily for it.

We’ll show in our 2020 edition that the prices for pumpkin products are more competitive with their non-fall-themed variants, even as this year’s pumpkin spice tax rose.

Key findings

  • We found an average pumpkin spice tax of 8.8% across 40 items from six retailers. That’s an increase from the 8% pumpkin spice tax we discovered in 2017, though more consistency was seen across the retailers.
  • The highest pumpkin spice-related markup is 175.1%. Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday pumpkin spice cheesecake sandwich cremes cost 41 cents an ounce, compared with its chocolate sandwich cremes, which cost 15 cents an ounce.
  • Of the six retailers we examined, Trader Joe’s had the largest average pumpkin spice tax at 17.8%, while Target had the lowest pumpkin spice tax at -3.1%. In our 2017 analysis, Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice tax was 62%, while Target’s was 14%.
  • For people adding fall flavor to their beverages, there can be stiff premiums. The average Starbucks pumpkin spice-themed drink costs 15.9% more than its non-pumpkin counterpart. However, Dunkin’s pumpkin-flavored beverages cost the same as its regular products — just as they did in 2017.

Pumpkin spice tax across retailers: 8.8%

MagnifyMoney compared 80 pumpkin and non-pumpkin products to determine our pumpkin spice tax of 8.8%, a 10% increase from our last study. We examined various products from the following retailers:

  • Amazon Fresh
  • FreshDirect
  • Target
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Walmart
  • Whole Foods

The products ranged from the expected — pumpkin spice coffee creamer — to the seemingly redundant — sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins.

Without apparent rhyme or reason, the addition of pumpkin spice flavoring often changed prices, but not consistently through increases. Though many products saw no change in price compared to non-seasonal flavor options, less than half of the festive products we observed came at a markup ranging from subtle to borderline exorbitant.

And while some pumpkin products turned out to be less expensive than their standard counterparts, the markups tended to run at greater margins than the discounts.

Average pumpkin spice tax by retailer

Getting all things pumpkin turned out to be more affordable from big-box stores like Target and Walmart. But despite its high pumpkin spice tax, Trader Joe’s can be a go-to store if you’re looking for variety in your pumpkin snacks and meals.

Here’s how the pumpkin spice tax broke down by retailer:

How do these taxes compare to 2017’s study that looked at the same topic?

  • Trader Joe’s 2020 pumpkin spice tax is down 71.3% from 2017, when it was 62%.
  • Target’s 2020 pumpkin spice tax is down 122.1% from 2017, when it was 14%.

Paying a premium for pumpkin spice latte, which spawned a culture

In 2003, Starbucks introduced a drink that would become its most popular seasonal beverage and — in time — inspire countless brands to develop their own autumnal offerings.

Despite new drinks and more competition, the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has become a harbinger of fall each year. However, those who wish to celebrate the change of seasons with Starbucks’ famed orange coffee drink will do so at a price 15.9% more on average than the non-pumpkin menu item.

As other restaurants and coffee brands have jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon, Dunkin’ is charging the same for its pumpkin and non-pumpkin products. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is only charging 1.8% more for pumpkin-flavored beverages, allowing you to keep some money in your savings account while indulging in your pumpkin spice vice.

The overall coffee pumpkin spice tax across the retailers was 10.1%.

Peak pumpkin spice not seen since 2018

Unfortunately for aficionados, we may be heading away from the pumpkin renaissance.

Searches for “pumpkin spice” and “pumpkin spice latte” in both this autumn and last year’s haven’t reached August 2018 levels, according to Google Trends data. It’s not unreasonable to believe the ongoing pandemic has contributed to the lack of interest this season, or perhaps a renewed focus in saving extra cash. Notably, though, the time spent on drive-thru lines has increased as demand at fast-food chains grows.

It’s possible that PSL creator Starbucks might be driving search trends on its own — and in doing so, perhaps may have caused a little pumpkin spice burnout. Since 2016, we found search trends for both “pumpkin spice” and “pumpkin spice latte” peaked right around the time the company announced a date when the seasonal drink would return to stores.

States where people have searched most — and least — for pumpkin spice

The most pumpkin spice searches came primarily from the West, with the region claiming five of the 10 states with the highest search volume — Utah, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming.

On the other end of the spectrum, it appears residents in the South don’t care too much for the fall fixture, with seven states among the bottom 10 for pumpkin spice searches — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Arkansas. It is reasonable that states that don’t get too cold wouldn’t flock to a traditionally hot beverage.

Graphics: Full breakdown of grocery, coffee comparisons

Methodology

MagnifyMoney researchers gathered data on 80 grocery products (40 pumpkin and 40 non-pumpkin) across six retailers to estimate the average pumpkin spice tax. We also gathered data on 26 coffee beverages (13 pumpkin and 13 non-pumpkin).

This involved a mix of online shopping and in-store browsing during the week of Sept. 28, 2020. Because retailer locations vary, pricing came from the following New York and New Jersey ZIP codes:

  • 07047 (North Bergen, N.J.)
  • 10027, 10032, 10033, 10034, 10451 (New York City)
  • 10603, 10801 (Westchester County, N.Y.)
  • 12303 (Schenectady, N.Y.)

We compared the products on a price-per-ounce basis to control for different sizing of items.