Starbucks’ August 25 launch of its seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) — its earliest ever release — improved foot traffic on the following Saturday and Sunday to 7.7% and 6.2% below equivalent 2019 levels, according to data from Placer.ai. Prior to the return of the fall favorite, Starbucks’ peak foot traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic occurred during the week of August 17, when traffic came within 20% of 2019 levels.
The NPD Group noted in an email to Restaurant Dive that limited-time PSL offers typically don’t attract new customers, but rather appeal to existing customers who purchase often — at times three times more frequently than non-buyers. This has been the trend for the past four years, according to NPD’s Checkout, which tracks receipts of over 130,000 consumers.
This data could suggest strong diner demand for a sense of normalcy and comfort amid the COVID-19 crisis. Pumpkin spice-related products seem to be a safe bet to capture this interest — the flavor blend represents a $600 million-plus market, according to Neisen data from 2018, and the PSL is Starbucks’ most popular seasonal drink, with more than 424 million sold since 2003.
In the past few years, the PSL hasn’t always delivered a traffic boost for the coffee giant. Research last fall from location intelligence agency Gravy Analytics found that Starbucks’ average daily traffic actually decreased 2% following its 2018 PSL launch, citing potential fatigue of the product as a culprit. But the economic and social upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic could prime the product for a stronger year as diners seek “normal” experiences.