Ask anyone what makes a crowd-pleasing commercial, and you’ll get two answers: Puppies and babies. In beverage PR, babies are taboo, and puppies are almost synonymous with Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads. Many brands therefore jump on a seasonal flavor trend and ride the popularity wave for said “it” ingredient until the next season comes knocking on their door.

No Pumpkin Backlash in Sight

Since today marks the first day of fall, my curiosity in emerging seasonal flavors is at its peak. Sadly, those flavors must be late to the party, because what I came across in my research is pure “Pumpkinsanity.” Each year, every year, pumpkin (spice) seems to take home the people’s choice award for the most popular fall flavor and dominates the beer aisle of the grocery store. 2015 is no different. According to food industry tracker Mintel, use of pumpkin as an ingredient in beverages alone has grown 130 percent since 2006. Last year, almost four in ten Americans bought a pumpkin-flavored product. Only pie filling was more popular than beer in that flavor category (see infographic). Breweries like Blue Moon are taking note, and are releasing their pumpkin beers much earlier this year. Just like Halloween decorations, Blue Moon’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale hit the shelves in August (!).

You Can Thank Blame Starbucks

Whether you love – or love to hate – pumpkin (although Craft Beer Magazine makes a good argument against the latter), both camps agree that it all started with Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. Since its fateful launch ten years ago, over 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes have been sold. This fall season should add another 20 million orders. Espresso America’s Director for Starbucks, Peter Dukes, shared the mindboggling statistic with Forbes that over 3,000 Tweets a day (!) talk about the cult beverage.

Uphill Battle for Other Flavors

Until a bigwig like Starbucks decides to hook America on another fall flavor, the battle for taste buds may be won by pumpkin. Some contenders for the fall flavor of the future already exist, just on a smaller scale. FoodBytes dedicated a whole issue to “Fall 2.0,” seeking out next level flavors, and Fox Business tried to predict just the other day what ingredient could kick pumpkin spice off its throne. Among the contenders:  Pecans, sweet potato, cranberry, salted caramel, chestnuts, butterscotch, gingerbread, vanilla, apple and pear. I’ll take a cranberry porter, please (don’t laugh – Westport Brewing offers it, and Sixpoint Brewery used to offer it as part of its “Mad Scientist” series  a while ago).

How to Trump Pumpkin as PR Pro

Those of us in charge of PR for non-pumpkin beverages – don’t despair! Here are three tips to make your brand heard during “Pumpkinsanity:”

  1. Embrace That You’re Different: Media loves the underdog, so position yourself as the anti-pumpkin brand. Pumpkin haters, and those with pumpkin fatigue, will appreciate the pun. Proof that it works: A recent MarketWatch story about “10 Fall Beers With Absolutely No Pumpkin In Them”.
  2. (Ab)Use Popular Hashtags: Include popular hashtags, such as Starbuck’s #PSL (as in Pumpkin Spice Latte), in your social media updates to maximize reach. Examples: “Do your taste buds need a break from #PSL?” or “Guaranteed #pumpkin free – you’re welcome.” According to Ritetag, #pumpkin and #PSL each get used in over 70 unique tweets/hour, three times as much as #vanilla.
  3. Meet the Pumpkin Craze Halfway: Smuggle a pumpkin (dish) into your seasonal photography, or recommend pumpkin dishes your beverage brand pairs well with when pitching media.

Pumpkin or maple, pecan or vanilla: No matter what seasonal ingredient you promote, make the change of seasons your best friend. Limited edition/seasonal products get more turnkey media coverage than evergreen products. They work magic for sales, too, says Nielsen: “People now associate this time of year with the limited edition products. They know they won’t be out that long, so they want to get them.”