For many, fall means more than cozy weather and changing leaves. It also means the return of pumpkin spice. Those who indulge in the flavor are increasingly shelling out for it in the form of a “pumpkin spice tax,” a demand-based pricing strategy where retailers mark up the price for a pumpkin-flavored item.
Although many may be willing to pay bigger bucks for autumn’s signature flavor, the latest MagnifyMoney study reveals that they’ll be paying more for it than before. In fact, the average pumpkin spice tax is in the double digits — the highest it’s been since we began conducting our pumpkin spice studies in 2007.
Across the 80 analyzed grocery and coffee products from six retailers, MagnifyMoney researchers found that consumers are paying an average of 14.1% more for the pumpkin spice-flavored version of an item. That’s the first time the pumpkin spice tax has been in the double digits since MagnifyMoney began researching this topic in 2017.
While previous studies show that the pumpkin spice tax has been rising for some time, this year’s pumpkin spice tax is a particularly notable jump. The average pumpkin spice tax was 8.8% in 2020, when the MagnifyMoney study was last conducted. That means this year’s tax is 60.2% higher. Comparatively, the pumpkin spice tax rose by 10.0% between the studies conducted in 2017 and 2020.
While we’ll talk more about Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte later, it exemplifies this trend. A 16-ounce PSL (no, finance junkies, we’re not talking about private student loans) cost $5.25 in our 2017 study. In our 2020 analysis, the same 16-ounce PSL was $5.65 — a 7.7% jump. In a shorter period from 2020 to 2022, the price of that drink jumped to $6.45 — a 14.2% jump. This aligns so well with trends from our studies: Pumpkin spice prices jumped between 2017 and 2020 but skyrocketed between 2020 and 2022.
MagnifyMoney executive editor Ismat Mangla says recent economic events are largely to blame for these recent jumps in costs. “The pandemic had a huge effect on the grocery industry and supply chain in general,” she says. “Food production costs increased, and inflation has caused prices to rise.”
Beyond the impacts felt across the food industry, many major spice suppliers continue to wrestle with ongoing supply chain shortages. Not to mention that demand for pumpkin spice has only continued to grow — Nielsen data shows that the industry was worth $511 million in 2019, up 4.7% from 2018.
Still, the pumpkin spice market is often unpredictable, even in ordinary circumstances. Because pumpkin spice season arises before the holidays, it also coincides with the peak of transportation season. That can add another layer of challenges to the supply chain — particularly now, as the American trucking industry grapples with a record-breaking shortage of truck drivers.
As the pumpkin spice market’s grown, the fall flavor is now available in almost everything — from ice cream and craft beer to yogurt and even dog treats. And how much more you’ll shell out for your fall-flavored variety depends on what products you’re buying.
The largest pumpkin spice-related markup? Pretzels. And it’s a significant tax: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Teeny Tiny Pretzels cost a whopping 161.1% more than its Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks — 50 cents an ounce versus 19 cents an ounce, respectively.
Following that, expect to shell out more for pumpkin spice pancakes, hummus and soup:
While markups are common, it’s not the case across the board. Another snack — cookies — saw the biggest pumpkin spice-related price decrease (14.3%). That’s Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies from Target. Their pumpkin spice cookies cost 70 cents an ounce, while their dark chocolate cookies cost 82 cents.
You’ll also see cheaper pumpkin-flavored My/Mochi ice cream, oatmeal and breakfast cereals.
It’s not just the items themselves that have a markup. Some retailers also charge a higher pumpkin spice tax on average. Specifically, Whole Foods has the highest pumpkin spice tax — their pumpkin spice-flavored items cost 27.8% more than their counterparts. That’s followed by Trader Joe’s (26.8%). On the other hand, Target charges 3.4% less for pumpkin-related items across the products we analyzed.
What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of pumpkin spice? For most, it’d probably be Starbucks and its infamous pumpkin spice latte — the product that arguably kick-started the pumpkin spice trend.
But how much more will you be paying for the PSL this year? Our study finds Starbucks charges $1 more for its signature seasonal latte over its Caffe Latte — $6.45 versus $5.45 for its 16-ounce drink. That’s a pumpkin spice tax of 18.3%.
Blank Street has a similarly high markup for its seasonal product. The New York coffee shop, which is expanding to Boston and Washington, D.C., charges 15.8% more for its 20-ounce Iced Pumpkin Spice Latte than its regular Iced Latte. It only costs slightly more to get a pumpkin spice fix at Dunkin’ — their fall-favored items we analyzed cost just 3.9% more, on average.
Although pumpkin spice lattes were once a booming trend — and pumpkin-flavored items continue to cost more — consumers aren’t showing as much interest in it nowadays. Google Trends data shows that searches for pumpkin spice latte in August 2022 were 29% lower than in August 2018 — when searches hit their peak.
Why is there less interest? Simple economics may offer an explanation. Pumpkin spice is a seasonal item, and it’s that way for a reason — companies find more benefit in offering pumpkin spice items for a quarter of the year because its limited availability appeals to consumers and ultimately drives up revenue.
As competition grows, companies are issuing pumpkin-spice products earlier and earlier — and sometimes they’re releasing products weeks before the fall season officially starts. The year that pumpkin spice latte searches hit their peak, Starbucks launched its PSL on Aug. 28 — the first time the product had launched as early as August.
Since then, its competitors have continued to push an earlier release date. Dunkin’, for example, released its pumpkin spice menu on Aug. 16 last year, a full week before Starbucks released its own pumpkin spice latte on Aug. 24. During its week-long head start, foot traffic at Dunkin’ was up by 8.4% compared to that week the year before, and momentum continued well into the week of Starbucks’ own release.
For many, that slowly increasing availability may mean they’re less interested in pumpkin spice now than before.
Of course, interest in the PSL also varies by region. Across the last five years, Colorado had the highest pumpkin spice latte search volume. Following that, Arizona and Washington ranked highest.
The top five states are in the West. While residents in Colorado may simply be excited for the start of the season — particularly as the state boasts infamous yellow foliage — it’s worth noting that the rest of the Western states on the list don’t have much of a fall season. Particularly, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico have typical desert weather and temperatures vary between extremes, so their interest in pumpkin spice may be driven by some fall FOMO.
Meanwhile, Mississippi tops the list of the least curious states, followed by Vermont and Louisiana. Given that Mississippi and Louisiana have hot starts to the fall season, it’s understandable why they’d be less enthusiastic about pumpkin spice. Meanwhile, other low-ranking states, like Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island, have temperate falls, but residents may get their seasonal fix by being out in the stunning red foliage for which these New England states are known.
As we settle into a particularly expensive fall season, getting your pumpkin spice fix may feel a bit more difficult than before. Here are a few tips to save a few bucks on your next pumpkin-flavored favorites:
MagnifyMoney researchers gathered data on 62 grocery products (31 pumpkin and 31 non-pumpkin) from three retailers — Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Target — to estimate the average pumpkin spice tax. We also gathered data on 18 products (nine pumpkin and nine non-pumpkin) from three coffee retailers — Blank Street, Starbucks and Dunkin’.
This involved a mix of online shopping and in-store browsing during the week of Sept. 26, 2022. Because retailer locations vary, pricing came from the following Brooklyn, N.Y., ZIP codes:
We compared the products on a price-per-ounce basis to control for different sizing of items.