Starbucks Is Nothing Without #PSL Season

Our interest in the Starbucks fall menu keeps the chain thriving.

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Starbucks PSL and fall 2022 menu items in carrying tray
Image: Starbucks

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Starbucks is always trying something new. Whether it’s showcasing alternative milks in sleek new beverages or stoking nostalgia for childhood flavors, the country’s second-biggest fast food chain behind McDonald’s (yes, Starbucks is a fast food chain, just accept it) has a constantly rotating menu that is always testing the limits of what we want our coffee to be. Yet every fall, the chain keeps playing the hits with the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte—and there’s a wealth of data that indicates just how dependent Starbucks is on its popularity.

How popular is Starbucks’ fall menu?

Sure, Starbucks knows how to hold our attention in the hot summer months with inventive iced beverages, but fall is when the chain attracts a wide swath of customers beyond the usual commuter crowd. According to a new report from industry data analytics firm Placer.ai, Starbucks’ foot traffic rose by more than 25% in the seven days after this year’s fall menu launched on August 30, compared with the five weeks leading up to the launch. That’s a larger percent increase than the same seven-day period in both 2021 and 2019. (For understandable reasons, 2020 is not a convenient year to include when analyzing wider trends in the food industry.)

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“A number of factors contributed here including the dissipating impact of inflation, the back to school season and more,” Placer.ai notes, “but the PSL impact stood out.”

Note that the increase tracked by Placer.ai is in the number of visits to Starbucks locations, not sales figures—which, in this case, is an even stronger indicator of the fall menu’s popularity. People aren’t just spending more because seasonal drinks are slightly pricier than a regular latte; Starbucks is luring more people to come spend money in the first place.

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It’s a boost that Starbucks sorely needed. Just one week prior to launching the fall 2022 menu with its Pumpkin Spice Latte, Apple Crisp Macchiato, and assorted pastries, the chain was, according to Placer.ai data, experiencing a downturn of 8.4% fewer late summer visitors compared to the same period in 2019. In fact, in the five weeks preceding the PSL’s return, only one week in August saw more visits in 2022 than in 2019.

We might get frustrated by the #PSL saturation every year, but it’s clear that fall flavors are among Starbucks’ most marketable—and market them it will, hoping against hope that you turn your love of a $5.75 latte into your entire personality. The strength of Starbucks’ September and October visits (and the subsequent sales implied therein) can make all the difference to the company’s bottom line. Now we just need to make sure that the success of the business leads to meaningful gains for the workers.

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