Infographic: Why Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte is still scorching the competition

| by Cherryh Cansler
Infographic: Why Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte is still scorching the competition

By Eli Portnoy,  CEO of Sense360

For thousands of American coffee lovers, last Tuesday was a long awaited, momentous occasion: the 13th annual return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Starbucks' most popular seasonal beverage of all time. The drink has garnered a cult­like following and an acronym all of its own PSL. Though many have speculated, Starbucks won't say how much money it makes from the PSL alone, and other reports are left to speculate the potential correlation between increased third-quarter revenues and the release of the drink.

For a more detailed picture of the popularity of the PSL, insights firm Sense360 took a look under the hood of its data machine. Sense360, which compiles real­time location data from a panel of more than 2 million anonymous users across the country, tracks visits to QSRs across the entire country. By measuring visits to every Starbucks location in the United States before and after the reintroduction of the PSL, a clearer image of PSL's powerful appeal emerges.

What was the impact?

Between 7 and 9 a.m. on Sept 5 and 6, Starbucks added more than 150,000 visits for each day. During the week leading up the PSL comeback, Starbucks held roughly 10 percent of the national QSR market overall, making it a top player in the Quick Service market. In the week after Sept 5, Starbucks; share jumped by 6.96 percent

Thus the reintroduction of the PSL appears to have increased Starbucks visits by close to 7 percent, according to Sense360.

How basic are pumpkin spice lattes?

Over the last few years, the internet has loved to poke fun at the Fall favorite referring to the drink as a "basic beverage" as it gained additional mainstream momentum.

Even Starbucks is trying to shake its basic image. But what does the data say? Does drinking a PSL really make you basic?

Our data found that the extra 150,000 people who rushed Starbucks for their PSL fix first thing  were unique in a few ways. As compared to the rest of QSR and Starbucks customers, they were 48 percent more likely to go to the gym, 54 percent more likely to go to a nail salon, 41 percent  more likely to go to a clothing store, 89 percent  more likely to go to a jewelry store, and 53 percent  more likely to go to a beauty salon. How do they finance all of these purchases? Fortunately, 45 percent  of them had a household income of over $80,000.

How did the PSL affect market share?

With respect to the QSR market for coffee-based restaurants specifically, the change is even more apparent. During the week leading up to the PSL introduction, Starbucks held 67.5 percent of the national market for coffee based chain's, putting it miles in front of Dunkin' Donuts with 20.5 percent, Einstein Bros with 3.5 percent and Tim Hortons with 2.7 percent.

In the week since the return of the PSL, Starbucks even further increased its lead owning 69 percent of the market.

Starbucks' national market share jumped a whopping 2 percent, putting it at over 69 percent  of the national coffee market.

In this time period, Dunkin' Donuts dropped three percent, from 20.5 to 17.5, while Einstein Bros and Tim Hortons remained relatively constant. On the national level, Starbucks' reintroduction of the PSL enabled it to effectively steal three percent of the market from Dunkin' Donuts, something that Dunkin' Donuts cannot be too thrilled about.

Starbucks Vs. Dunkin

Starbucks' poaching of Dunkin' Donuts' customers is particularly evident in the Boston market area, where Dunkin' Donuts enjoys an unusually high local market share. During the week before Sept. 6, Dunkin' Donuts held nearly 72 percent of the local QSR coffee market, while Starbucks held under 26 percent. Bostonians do love their Dunkin'. During the week since the return of the PSL, however, Dunkin' Donuts dropped more than five percent to 67, while Starbucks surged more than four percent to roughly 30.5. Below is a graph plotting Starbucks' local market share in the Boston DMA over the last two weeks. A spike is clearly visible around the PSL's reintroduction:

The future of Fall flavors

Starbucks is surely celebrating this most recent return of the PSL, which has ushered in an impressive wave of foot traffic for Starbucks across the nation. Given the substantial market power of the PSL after all these years, Starbucks would seem unlikely to change course with the PSL in the years to come. The PSL demonstrates the potential advantages of seasonal offerings for QSRs, which can be strategically timed to garner foot traffic and consumer attention, in addition to bolstering consumer loyalty.

Over the last month, Starbucks has dominated its competitors. With these kinds of tangible returns, other coffee­based Quick Service Restaurants would be wise to follow in Starbucks' footsteps by investing in strong seasonal products and marketing. 

Check out the infographic bleow for all the details.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Starbucks


Topics: Coffee / Specialty Beverages

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for

wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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