Pumpkin Spice, The All-Powerful Global Marketing Tool: Foodie Underground


ColumnAre you seduced by the marketing superpower that is pumpkin spice?

Walking last week, I passed a Starbucks.

There would be nothing miraculous about this since Starbucks has a firm grip on the coffee market in the US, and many other places, but I live in Paris. Note that in Paris there are not a lot of Starbucks. In fact a local coffee roaster recently told me that it took forever to even get a hold on the market here, because while there are a few Parisians nowadays that grab their coffee to go, walking and drinking is simply not part of French culture.

Parisians want to sit and enjoy their coffee.

But alas, Starbucks has gotten a piece of the market share even here, and there are a few shops around town. I passed one the other day and was so appalled at what I saw in front of me that I almost passed out:

A sign for Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Branded in French as “pur bonheur.” Pure happiness.

Yes, the pumpkin spice trend has gotten so out of control that you can now get it in the French capital.

Le sigh. Proof that food trends definitely can have a global reach. In this case, particularly syrupy, overly sweet, industrial lattes.

But why is it that we get so annoyed by the pumpkin spice trend?

First of all, I am not talking about pumpkin spice that you made by roasting up a pumpkin, making a simple syrup infused with cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks and then combining the two.

No, I am talking about anything that comes from a chain store/is processed/has enough orange colored marketing logos slapped on it to give you a headache. Yes, that kind of pumpkin spice. The kind that people get so excited about come every fall.

The reason that the pumpkin spice phenomenon is so off-putting is that it embodies our problem with food: food marketing comes first, and actual food comes second.

Slap “pumpkin spice” on anything, and food marketers do, from greek yogurt to Oreos, and it immediately sounds seasonal. This of course gives us the illusion that we’re eating seasonally. But check out any guide to fall foods, and I can assure you that Pumpkin Spice Oreos will not be on it.

Second, using the word “pumpkin” makes the food product sound seemingly whole, natural and healthy, when we know that the opposite is true. What’s the one ingredient missing from most industrial pumpkin spice products? PUMPKIN.

The underlying truth to all these products is this: pumpkin spice isn’t a real flavor, it’s a marketing tool.

The food industry loves marketing tools, especially those that work well, because it allows food companies to sell more food products. Not real food, food products.

Pumpkin is pumpkin, and you can easily buy one, bake it, add a few fresh spices and bake a pumpkin pie. It will be tasty, and it will be real food. You know what’s great about real food? It doesn’t need a marketing tool. Even better, there’s one thing that real food will get you that food products never will:

Pur bonheur.

Related on EcoSalon

Forget Pumpkin Spice: Here Are 10 Other Fall Flavors to Put In Your Latte

15 Pumpkin Recipes (That Aren’t Pumpkin Pie)

Sunday Brunch: Pumpkin Pancakes

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.

Image: Anna Brones

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.