PSLs Feed the Fall Frenzy

by Lindsay Baslock
Sports Editor

Pumpkin Spice is the fame…and that is what the typical white girls claim!

Think back to a time in your childhood when pumpkin and pumpkin-flavored everything was not as prevalent as today.

I remember carving pumpkins with my family and lighting them up on the front porch for Halloween. Then for Thanksgiving, my family and I would drive to my grandparents’ house and finish our holiday meal with pumpkin pie.

Except for these two annual occurrences, pumpkins did not consume my life as they try to do today.

Mastermind Behind the PSL  

Enter Peter Dukes. In 2003, Dukes was a product manager in the Starbucks Espresso Division. He carried a pumpkin pie into the coffee laboratory in Seattle, Washington, in the middle of April. The scientists ate the pie, according to Bustle.com, and then carefully chose which ingredients would make up a new seasonal drink designed especially for fall.

After much refinement, the Pumpkin Spiced Latte was born. The drink is a delicious but simple latte spruced up with pumpkin flavored syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and a little bit of clove.

The standard pumpkin fruit became an instant success and the pivotal beginning of a pumpkin-crazed society. But why?

PSL Stereotypes

PSLs now debut the day after Labor Day and are served until December. They are also cited as the driver behind the company’s 10 percent increase in fourth-quarter sales in 2014, according to Forbes.com.

The PSL transitioned from a cult-type drink to mainstream success. The white cups are clad in orange-colored sleeves and found in the hands of many stereotypical “white girls.”

This stereotype can be described as teenage white girls flocking to Starbucks locations everywhere. They come wearing yoga pants, Ugg boots, style their hair in a bun, and can, maybe, be seen taking selfies in line.

Traditionally, the start of fall was signified by the changing colors of leaves or the drop in temperature. Now, fall is marked by opening day, when the PSL returns to Starbucks stores.

Emma Alexander, a junior social work major, says, “I call it Halloween in a cup…Fall is probably my favorite time of the year and when the PSL comes out, that is how you know fall has arrived.”

Becoming a Trend

After seeing the popularity of PSLs, other companies jumped into the pumpkin craze. Roughly one in three people bought something pumpkin enhanced in 2014, Delish.com reports. Not all of these sales came from the much-expected typical white girl trope, but from other demographics as well.

“Most of the time we sell PSLs to people in social groups. They usually buy them if they are with a friend as opposed to by themselves,” said Lina, a Starbucks barista at the South Rochester Road location.

Between the months of August and December, tweets pick up on pumpkin topics on Twitter. Not only is that just for PSLs…but any pumpkin indulgence combined. In fact, pumpkin-infused food and drinks are up by 79 percent since 2011, Nielson Data notes, and is a $361 million business.

You can go into any shopping store and find pumpkin-flavored pancake mix, chips, hummus, Oreos and even vodka! Needless to say, the age of the pumpkins is here and has no sign of leaving of yet.

I recently sat in my local Starbucks and surveyed some customers who sat around me. Out of the six people I spoke to, all within the 20-35 age range, only one had not tried the PSL. Five of the six said they have heard of the “typical white girl” stereotype, and four of them said they would buy this drink again because of the flavor.

Everything pumpkin is not just for the Millennials to obsess over; Generation Y are fanatics as well. So as coffee prices rise around the world, why do we continue to buy into this craze?

Currently a tall PSL from Starbucks costs $4.25, a grande is $4.95 and a venti is $5.25. The tall price is a 25 cent increase from two years ago in 2013. So if this trend continues…a tall PSL in 2017 could cost $4.50. Will Starbucks customers be willing to get their artificial pumpkin fixing for that price? Referring back to the survey I conducted, only one of the six people said they would pay over $5 for a tall PSL.

Why the Craze Continues

Psychology Today suggests people are buying into the fall frenzy for three possible reasons. The first is because of the limited time offer. We only have four months to get our fill of it, so we may have the “get it before it’s gone” mentality. The Reactance Theory says we become more motivated to respond to offers when we feel our choices and alternatives are limited.

The second suggestion deals with social conformity. “Everyone else is doing it,” so it must be cool; therefore, I should do it as well. Individuals desire to fit in with a group to feel the sense of belonging. A sub-conscious feeling of happiness may occur when we buy PSLs because of their popularity in our society.

The last suggestion is because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. When the leaves change colors and a crisp chill is in the air, a warm fall drink may just be what our mind and bodies want. These drinks and pumpkin-infused foods give meaning to fall and something for us to look forward to.

Every person is different as to why they do or do not buy into the pumpkin craze. Follow the trend if you wish and get your taste of fall in a cup!