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The PSL: 150,000 Americans Rush To Starbucks (On Their Way To Morning Yoga)

2016/09/23

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It’s Back! On September 5th and 6th, 2016, Starbucks did it again.  While for some it may have been an unremarkable Tuesday, for many it was a long awaited, momentous occasion: the thirteenth annual return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), Starbucks’ most popular seasonal beverage of all time.  

Starbucks with sunglasses

Source: @TheRealPSL

How Popular is the Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Popular enough to have garnered a cult-like 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 real-time 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 both before and after the reintroduction of the PSL, a clearer image of PSL’s powerful appeal emerges.

What Was the Impact?

Between 7 and 9am on September 5th and 6th Starbucks added over 150,000 visits for each day. During the week leading up to September 5th, Starbucks held roughly 10 percent of the national QSR market overall, making them a top player in the Quick Service market (think McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s In the week after September 5th, Starbucks share jumped by 6.96%, as evidenced by the graph below:

PSL drove big lift.

PSL Impact on Starbucks visits

Thus the reintroduction of the PSL appears to have increased Starbucks visits by close to 7%.


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 on the 5th and 6th of September where unique in a few ways. As compared to the rest of QSR and Starbucks customers, they were 48% more likely to go to the gym, 54% more likely to go to a nail salon, 41% more likely to go to a clothing store, 89% more likely to go to a jewelry store, and 53% more likely to go to a beauty salon. How do they finance all of these purchases? Fortunately, 45% of them had a household income of over $80,000.

How Did The Drink Affect Marketshare?

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% of the market.

Starbucks’ national market share jumped a whopping 2% putting it at over 69% 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’ – Who Won?

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 September 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:

PSL market share in Boston DMA

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 coffee-based Quick Service Restaurants would be wise to follow in Starbucks’ footsteps by investing in strong seasonal products and marketing.

Sense360 is an insights firm with a panel of over 2 million anonymous consumers and data on more than 150 million consumer trips a month. By understanding the visits and journeys of millions of people in the real-world, we are able to provide restaurants and retailers with detailed competitive and consumer insights.