How Pumpkin Spice Reaches Your Markets and Lattes

It’s nearing fall; that means it is time for pumpkin spice…well, everything.

In 2003, Starbucks introduced consumers to the Pumpkin Spice Latte arguably starting a $500 million industry and America’s obsession with pumpkin spice products. Now, nearly 15 years later, the obsession continues as more and more companies are jumping on the pumpkin spice trend. While consumers are often excited about the wide variety of options available—ice cream, cereals, protein bars, drinks and etc.—there is a lot of work that goes into supplying the pumpkin spice to meet the fall craze. Here’s how pumpkin spice reaches markets and lattes:

A common misconception is that pumpkin spice products all contain their namesake, pumpkin. This is not the case. Traditional pumpkin spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and sometimes mace and/or allspice. While the ingredients in pumpkin spice were used in a wide variety of foods, dating back centuries, official pumpkin spice did not reach supermarket shelves until the 1950s when McCormick began to produce the combination for distribution, claimed Scientific American. Despite pumpkin spice being an American favorite, many of the ingredients are predominately found in other parts of the world.

Cinnamon is a product of the internal bark of Cinnamomum trees. The cinnamon most Americans are familiar with is cassia cinnamon, which originated in China. Cassia cinnamon is produced in Indonesia, Burma, China and Vietnam as well. Ginger, clove and nutmeg can also be found in Asia, while allspice, which is dried unripe fruit of the Pimenta dioica tree, grows in Mexico, Central America and other warm climates.

“Historically, spices came from Asia (e.g. India) and got distributed all over the world,” explained Burak Kazaz, the Steven Becker Professor of Supply Chain Management at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. “It used to be the staple of the Silk and/or Spice Road.”

A typical spice supply chain begins with individual farms that cultivate the crops and collect raw spices. Spices from farmers may be sold directly to consumers or purchased by agents or auctioneers. Agents and auctioneers sell and transfer spices to wholesalers directly or secondary agents. Wholesalers sell to retailers, customers and spice processors. Processors may also buy spices from agents, auctioneers and brokers.

“Spice processing is usually where the individual spices come together,” explained Kazaz.

Processors, who traditionally work for retailers and export houses, cure, clean, grade, blend and package spices and more. Afterward, the finished product is stored or distributed to supermarkets and companies, who either redistribute the finished product to other stores or make the product available for consumption.

Happy pumpkin spice season!


Arielle Spears