Do Customers Know They Want What You’re Selling? The Story of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Consumers often do not know what they want until you show it to them. The story behind Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte is the perfect example of this.

Since it was introduced in 2003, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has been sold over 200 million times. It has an cult following among its fan base. Many fans line up to get their first taste in the fall and mourn the day their local store runs out of it.

The kicker to all this is that, if the company had gone with the wrong business strategies, that flavor would never have reached the consumer’s hands.

The Story of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Back in 2003, Starbuck’s product development team was looking for a new espresso flavor. The company had seen excellent results when they had introduced Christmas flavors, like Peppermint Mocha, in previous years. They wanted to replicate that success by introducing flavors for autumn.

The development team came up with a long list of potential flavors. One of the flavors on the list was a pumpkin pie latte. The team then let a pool of Starbuck’s enthusiasts rank the list. Drinks that contained chocolate and caramel definitely came out on top of the customer survey. The pumpkin latte idea fell close to the bottom.

However, the product manager of the espresso division, Peter Dukes, could not get the idea of the pumpkin pie flavor out of his mind. He created a short list of four flavors for further development. The list included the top three contenders from the consumer survey and the pumpkin pie latte.

His bosses were skeptical, but Dukes pressed the issue. He knew that consumers loved the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pie, with its rich blend of spices and pumpkin, is a must-have for many during the autumn months. Fortunately, Starbuck’s management team listened to Dukes.

It was a decision that would mark the most successful rollout and seasonal flavor in Starbuck’s history. 

The Moral of the Story

Consumer feedback is great for identifying problems or areas where innovation can happen. However, it is not the best way to come up with a solution. It is the job of the entrepreneur to come up with solutions that the consumer will love.

Focus the efforts of your company and team on coming up with innovative solutions. It is among the strongest business strategies your company can adopt.


Innovative Solutions are part of what help Keep Your Sales Pipeline Full. To learn more ways to pump up you pipeline join us for a webinar April 21st. 


About the Author