Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Conspiracy: How we became addicted to the blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and a little bit of pumpkin

My name is Jon, and I’m a pumpkin spice addict.

If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve likely had your share of pumpkin spice-flavored treats – latte, coffee, ice cream, Doritos chips, yogurt, pudding, Skittles, Oreos, cereal, and the list could go on.

I have yet to check into rehab and attend support meetings over it, but I have become concerned over the seductive draw pumpkin spice has over me and many other people.

You may be asking yourself right now, what are the signs of having an addiction to pumpkin spice? Here’s my take on it:

  • ·       You can’t go longer than a day without getting another fix. You may have become concerned that it was ruining your taste buds, costing too much money, and drawing you away when it was time to get more work done. It keeps popping into your mind until you can nearly taste it again. You realize it is getting ridiculous, but you just can’t stop!
  • ·       You go shopping at Trader Joe’s, and you leave the store with at least 25 pumpkin spice-flavored items. That might include pumpkin bagels with a jar of pumpkin butter to slather over the bagels.
  • ·       You know there’s limited availability of these yummy treats, and the clock is ticking. You might be able to order another holiday treat, like peppermint mocha latte, during the year, but not pumpkin spice. They’ve got you hooked.
  • ·       You start getting extremely self-conscious and embarrassed while standing in line, or driving through, at Starbucks. Does that college student in the Starbucks uniform recognize me from yesterday? Does it look weird that I’m here again waiting in line just for another pumpkin spice drink? Are they concerned that if they run out of the ingredients to make another one, I might go postal?
  • ·       It’s getting so bad that you buy your pumpkin spice latte at 7-Eleven just to save money and avoid the long line at Starbucks.
  • ·       You grieve the end of the pumpkin spice season, which depending on the store, will go to December 31. The year ticks by and you can’t hardly wait for early September to arrive and the pumpkin spice season to be here again.

Pumpkin spice has become so pervasive and in-your-face that I figure there’s got to be a conspiracy behind it. There’s a few companies making bookoo bucks off of it.

So who’s behind the conspiracy?

History:  The origin of pumpkin spice might have gone back to the late 1700s, according to the Book of Wikipedia. That was a century and a half after the Pilgrims came to America and started Thanksgiving festivities with Wampanoag Indians. The delicious flavoring was said to have first become a commercial product in the 1930s when McCormick and Co. rolled out pumpkin pie ingredients flavored by a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove. As for these days, food and beverage products do usually include these four spices, and sometimes there’s a little bit of real pumpkin thrown in.

PSL:  Starbucks is the leader with its pumpkin spice latte, code-named PSL. But it’s not just the hot or iced latte you get at the store. Starbucks has us pulled into PSL through a few other channels. You can get the full Frappuccino with the whipped cream topping, or you can buy the smaller bottled version at the grocery store. You can buy the company’s Via instant coffee in the pumpkin spice flavor. You can buy a pumpkin scone at the counter. Then there’s the classic PSL in traditional hot latte with whipped cream, or the iced PSL.

Starbucks launched PSL in 2003, and more than 200 million servings have been sold since the beginning. The coffeehouse chain is expected to make about $100 million in revenues from selling PSLs this fall. The success of the yummy, addictive PSL has spawned several copycats in the market, including Keurig cups from several coffee makers.

As for the conspiracy, Starbucks has been benefiting heavily from those of us who’ve been converted from casual drinkers to hardcore PSL addicts. Case in point: three quarters of people who buy a Starbucks PSL buy only one serving per season, according to market research firm NPD group. That means a quarter of us are returning to those stores several times a season.

Trader Joe’s:  At Trader Joe’s, the amount of pumpkin products has steadily increased since the grocery chain began offering them in the mid-1990s, according to the company. This year, Trader Joe’s shelves will be stocked with more than 70 pumpkin items, up from around 60 items in 2015.

Along with pumpkin bagels and pumpkin butter, on my last trip to the grocery store I pretty much went over the edge. I bought the pumpkin spice flavored Keurig coffee, snack bars, flaxseed cereal, yogurt, and the pumpkin spice cookies. I considered the pumpkin pie but decided to wait on that with Thanksgiving a month away; wouldn’t want to spoil that fine tradition with my family. How could I explain I was too full to eat another serving when I’d had four or five pieces of the pie before I joined them at the party? It does get ugly when you’re a pumpkin spice addict.

Competition:  My Google search found at least 30 sites with something close to my search term “pumpkin spice addict” before I stopped counting. It was a bit of a relief to find out I’m not the only one. One of the articles showed how extreme it’s become on the packaging side. In “20 Signs Your Pumpkin Addiction is Out of Control,” pumpkin chewing gum, pumpkin spice wine, and pumpkin spice Tampax, stood out on the list. I’ve included the Tampax product on the image I used in this article, along with pumpkin spice Trojan condoms, Doritos, Cheerios, Jell-O, and a Chipotle pumpkin spice burrito. What have we come to? Will some of us need an intervention?

Colorful:  I would say that the color of pumpkins used in artwork and cover design, which I think would be called burnt orange, has been highly influential. It may very well have caused me to choose the background color spectrum for my blog. Are we as hooked on the color as the flavor?

It turns out I’m not the only one hankering for another pumpkin spice-flavored treat tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Of course, there is always that day they’ll stop selling pumpkin spice products, once the holiday season ends. So you’ve got to consume as much as possible, right? And then wait longingly for next year when the pumpkin spice season returns. It seems to be getting as institutional as Christmas, the Super Bowl, and tax day.

About a year ago, it started dawning on me that the pumpkin spice trend was becoming pervasive; and that I was getting sucked into it. We had attended The Rise Of The Jack O’ Lanterns, a sculpted pumpkin art display (with a massive number of pumpkins) at Descanso Gardens in La Canada. It became so popular they had to move it to the L.A. Convention Center this year. One of the most memorable moments last year was seeing pumpkin sculptures of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. How did they know?

I eventually found out that there were several pumpkin spice addicts close to me. I wasn’t alone, which I had mixed feelings about.

The best I could hope for was that pumpkin spice is digestible and doesn’t assault your body and health. I’ve yet to hear about pumpkin spice causing cancer, kidney failure, extreme indigestion, psychosis, or car crashes. I personally like the spicing of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove (and a little bit of pumpkin) in my diet. It seems to help my digestion and doesn’t make my breath stink. I get a little bit a perk, or pick-me-up, from it – especially if it’s the flavor of my coffee drink.

I still haven’t figured all this out, and if it’s a conspiracy that I need to expose to save the average consumer from getting duped. All I know for sure is that I’m a pumpkin spice addict, and I probably will be tomorrow.


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