Analysts: No slowing the pumpkin spice craze

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Matt Jaworowski, Media General National Desk – (MEDIA GENERAL) – Technically, the first day of fall was September 22. But in the eyes of many consumers, it was September 6, when Starbucks officially brought back the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte, the genesis that sparked the fall flavor renaissance.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte, which even has its own Twitter account, has been a boon for Starbucks, but also its imitators and those willing to cash in on the sudden pumpkin craze.

A new ‘cash crop'

Since launching the seasonal drink in 2003, Starbucks has sold more than 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which, as of 2015, has raked in $70 million in net profits for the company.

"Pumpkin Spice Latte as become more than just a beverage. It has become a harbinger of the season," Starbucks product development leader Peter Dukes said in a 2014 news release.

But it's not just the Seattle-based juggernaut reaping rewards – pumpkin is invading all areas of your local grocery store. According to Nielsen data, 37 percent of all U.S. consumers purchased a pumpkin-flavored product in 2015, ranging from traditional baked goods and desserts to yogurt, gum, soaps, even potato chips and dog chews.

Per Nielsen, pumpkin products accounted for $361 million in sales in 2014, up 79 percent since 2011.

Oddly enough, the one product to not see a boost from the pumpkin spice craze: pumpkins. Sales of fresh pumpkins declined in 2011, 2013 and 2014, and a poor harvest hurt sales last year.

Strike while the latte is hot

Pumpkin spice products earn their keep as a seasonal treat. Although some products are available year round, 70 percent of pumpkin products are purchased between September and November, when a lot of people have that itch to wear a sweater and sip a warm drink.

Many market analysts expect the fall trend to continue in the coming years, knowing products will continue to imitate and innovate those already popular with consumers.

"It is such a ‘me too' industry," Bonnie Riggs of research firm NPD Group told Marketwatch. "If it's that popular with consumers, they're going to take advantage and have their own version."