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Expert: Pumpkin Spice Economy Taps Into Happiness

From coffees and ice cream to dog treats and Spam, the flavor and scent of pumpkin spice is flooding the market, stoking the cult-like devotion of consumers and giving rise to a billion-dollar industry.  

Pumpkin spice’s allure is its taste and fragrance of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, a combination that “evokes not only autumn but the warm feeling of Thanksgiving,” a time many spend with loved ones, says Spencer Ross, an expert on consumer behavior, marketing and branding, who is available for interviews about the fall phenomenon.

Selling that feeling of contentment is big business; Forbes estimates it as a $600 billion industry. To meet demand, manufacturers spin out all manner of goods – Saucony even makes “pumpkin spice” running shoes. The marketing strategy has become a “feedback loop” – the more popular pumpkin spice becomes, the more consumers want it, says Ross, who teaches in UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business.

But with all the love comes the haters, too. “Many believe the market is oversaturated and the ridiculous nature of some of the products inspires a countercultural defiance” toward the promotional juggernaut, Ross said, noting some consumers deliberately push back against the hipster stereotype that helps define the craze.

Part the blowback, he says, can also be traced to the use of the term “limited edition” on many of these products. A case in point, Ross says, is pumpkin spice Spam, which manufacturer Hormel Foods debuted this year as a product only available online through the company’s website and Walmart.

“It’s probably just good for publicity and a few consumers purchasing it as a novelty,” Ross said.
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