Even your Starbucks and Dunkin’ pumpkin spice lattes come with a shot of sexism

Dunkin’ and Starbucks are both rolling out their pumpkin spice lattes long before the autumn leaves are on the ground.

Dunkin’ told Fox News NWSA, +0.07%  that its fall menu will debut on Aug. 21. The menu includes classic fall offerings, like the Pumpkin Spice Donut, along with several new items that will help customers ring in fall before the leaves have even started to change colors.

Starbucks SBUX, +1.81%, meanwhile, said it will post riddles on social media as to when it will introduce the pumpkin spice latte; last year, the fall drink dropped on Aug. 28, and, citing sources, some media outlets said it will start selling the beverage around the same time this year.

Pumpkin spice latte aficionados are concerned with another question that have nothing to do with the date and more to do with who drinks it: Are these trendy drinks really mostly consumed by young women?

Pumpkin spice latte aficionados are concerned with another question that have nothing to do with the date and more to do with who drinks it: Are these trendy drinks really mostly consumed by young women? Weirdly, that’s the internet myth.

Maxwell Glick, an actor and YouTube GOOG, +1.92%  performer based in Los Angeles, defies it. He looks forward to pumpkin spice lattes every single year. “It’s like a celebration,” he said. When Glick heard men are sometimes stigmatized for drinking pumpkin spice lattes, he was confused, but not surprised. “In today’s society, it’s ridiculous to label something masculine and feminine,” he said. “You love what you love and it doesn’t matter what you are.”

Pumpkin spice lattes have been ridiculed on social media in recent years as a decidedly non-masculine drink consumed by white millennial women. “It all comes back to sexism,” Min Cheng wrote in a 2015 article in The Phoenix, a campus newspaper for Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. “People love to hate on what girls like. When I was in middle school, people made fun of Uggs DECK, +2.15%  and North Faces VFC, +1.04%  and Taylor Swift.”

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

He enjoys pumpkin spice lattes….

When Starbucks re-introduced them last year, Cait Munro of Refinery29 wondered why the fall beverage had become the avocado toast of spendthrift millennial women. “It’s a beverage that has come to symbolize all that is supposedly reprehensible about my (young, white, female) demographic,” she wrote. “It’s a stupid, silly stigma, and one deeply rooted in sexist double standards. And yet, somehow, it continues to plague me.”

Nearly half of pumpkin spice latte buyers are men, but just one one-third of plain latte buyers are men.

—The NPD Group

But some pumpkin spice-loving men like Glick see the funny side. He loves pumpkin spice lattes so much he made a parody music video paying homage to the drink on his own YouTube channel, to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” He sings about his frequent visits to Starbucks when the drink is in season. “It’s like my life’s improving, now that I have my sweet, frothy pumpkin spice,” he sings.

Starbucks is widely credited for creating the pumpkin spice latte in 2003. It’s made with milk, pumpkin spice sauce — a combination of ingredients such as sugar, condensed milk and pumpkin puree — and espresso. It’s topped with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

They don’t come cheap. It costs $5.45 for a medium-sized pumpkin spice latte in a New York Starbucks compared to $4.45 for a regular grande latte. Starbucks did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the price difference. Dunkin’s recommended retail price for its hot Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Signature Latte of $3.69 and $4.19 for the iced version.

All this fall flavoring is big business. Pumpkin-flavored product sales hit nearly $489 million between August 2017 and August 2018, according to data from market-research group Nielsen, up from $307 million in 2012. Brands have injected the flavor into soap, pudding, pies, baking mixes, cream and even dog food.

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

…and she enjoys the autumnal beverage too.
Men prefer pumpkin spice lattes to regular lattes

Critics say the beverage is over-hyped and a way to get people to spend money on expensive coffee drinks and share about it on social media. They also charge that it isn’t all that seasonal and is a predictable choice for young women who like to share the minutiae of their lives on social media. But that sexist assumption appears to be off base.

Men seem to prefer pumpkin spice lattes over regular lattes. Nearly half (47%) of pumpkin spice latte buyers are men, but just one one-third (34%) of plain latte buyers are men, according to data supplied to MarketWatch by The NPD Group, a market research firm.

About 45% of pumpkin spice latte buyers are 45 or older and 60% have a household income of $75,000 or more.

Pumpkin spice fans also skew older: About 45% of buyers are 45 or older, while plain latte drinkers span the generations. Perhaps owing to the $5 price tag in major cities, fans of the beverage are generally wealthier than the average American: 60% have a household income of $75,000 or more, according to NPD, nearly $14,000 more than the median household income.

“It crosses gender lines, age lines, income lines,” said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and psychology professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. “It’s not just the taste … It’s the feeling of fall people are craving,” she said.

Pumpkin spice lattes are trendy — and fleeting

Pumpkin spice lattes are almost as fleeting as a summer romance or cherry blossoms. “Consumers anticipate their availability and they know it’s only around for a short period of time,” said Kim McLynn, a spokeswoman at NPD Group. “This creates demand.”

Also see: Pumpkin spice is everywhere this Halloween, but maybe it shouldn’t be

Their arrival on menus marks the end of summer. People are hot and looking forward to the fall and pumpkin spice lattes are the first sign that cooler weather is on the way (eventually), she said. The drink signifies the warmth of knit sweaters, the sounds of crunching leaves and the beginning of apple picking season.

Still, studies suggest men and women do appear to have different approaches to shopping. Social media influences women more when it comes to what they buy, according to “The Myth of the Mansumer,” a 2014 survey of 1,700 consumers by The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce, a market-research firm.

Some studies do suggest that men and women appear to have different approaches to shopping.

—‘The Myth of the Mansumer’

It also found men are more likely to do extensive research before purchasing an item — almost a third said they spend 30 minutes or more on research, compared to just over 26% of women.

Even if some people still believe it’s a drink aimed primarily at women, pumpkin spice latte’s early arrival this year generated some backlash online — and lots of free publicity. Temperatures have been in the 90s and above in many parts of the country for the last month and some people consider it too soon for a hot drink. “We just have fewer things that aren’t polarized and anxiety-provoking to talk about,” Yarrow said.

Munro said as much in her recent Refinery29 piece: “To be fair, none of this is really the end of the world. There are myriad larger issues facing both women and society as a whole than whether or not some feel shy ordering a certain type of latte because it has been mocked on the internet. That is, by definition, a first world problem. And yet, it does feel like the pumpkin spice latte is ripe for reclamation.”

(This story was updated on Aug. 13, 2019.)

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