Last Friday marked the first official day of fall. Noticeably absent this week are marketing campaigns to launch autumnal consumer bliss. Sorry Charlie Brown but the great pumpkin isn’t coming. The start of pumpkin palooza already peaked in mid-August when retailers began selling pumpkin-spice everything – before beach clubs closed, before kids went back to school, before the public was ready.

Or, were we…?

From breakfast cereals, donuts and beer, to pastas, sauces and meats, and even cough drops and deodorant, the pumpkin takeover is real.

In August, The New York Times reported a pumpkin pushback amongst some consumers on social media who argued it was too early for pumpkin season as it was still summer and suggested the pumpkin-spice craze was old news. However, in that same article a brand strategist emphasized the desire for brands to capitalize on limited-time offerings and how extended time to market pumpkin-spiced products would boost overall seasonal sales. Consumers seek seasonal products when cued to do so by marketers and retailers. Why wouldn’t they start early?

Starbucks is Leading the Pumpkin Spice Pack

Starbucks reintroduced its pumpkin spice latte to the public on Sept. 1, one week earlier than in past years. For the first time, the Seattle-based coffeehouse chain launched a pre-packaged bottle version of the beloved drink to be sold in grocery stores, a successful move made by the company in 1996 with its frappuccino according to Quartz. Starbucks baristas were so concerned with the hype ramping up to “P” day this year that a reddit support chat group was created to trade tips about how to deal with the pumpkin spice latte craze.

Social media campaigns that offer consumers incentives are now driving sales for seasonal campaigns.

Starbucks has digitally transformed its seasonal sales strategy around segmentation and exclusivity. The company created official Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts for the pumpkin spice latte using the handle @TheRealPSL. As described in Mobile Marketer, the coffeehouse chain engaged fans on Tumblr asking questions around their favorite fall-themed drink and posted on Twitter and Instagram strategically to personify the pumpkin spice latte in order to generate fans and followers for it; the drink has become a fall celebrity.

The company also created a mobile events and promotions calendar that gives Starbucks Rewards members exclusive in-store discount and promotion notifications around seasonal drinks and products through its mobile app. Starbucks officials told Retail DIVE this effort has successfully increased in-store traffic. Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has become a global phenomenon that Forbes credits with opening pumpkin markets in an estimated 50 countries.

The Growing Pumpkin Patch

A survey of nearly 84,000 U.S. shoppers’ e-receipts conducted between 2014 and 2016 by Slice Intelligence revealed that spending on pumpkin spice products rose 22 percent in September 2016 in comparison to the previous two years. Pumpkin spice flavored coffee accounted for more than half of online sales of pumpkin-spiced products, a whopping 56 percent, followed by sports nutrition and cereal bars, which accounted for 11 percent of sales.

According to Business Insider, pumpkin spice food and drinks now generate more than $500 million in annual sales. While it’s too early to tell how the pumpkin economy will fare in 2017, experts agree that marketing machine bigwigs like Starbucks and the power of social media are largely to be credited with pumpkin’s success.

Like it or hate it, pumpkin pandemonium and its early onset is here to stay. Happy fall!