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Pumpkin spice wars: Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts

Autumn is in full swing. It may or may not come as a surprise that many people associate fall with pumpkin spice beverages. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts usually wait until September to launch their notorious pumpkin spice cold brews and pumpkin spice lattes – not this year! These beloved seasonal beverages are so popular with Americans that the two chains decided to release them as early as August. But who is really winning over the hearts of US customers and are there differences in the way customers think about each chain’s pumpkin spice specials? 

To find out, we gathered US Twitter conversations around Dunkin’ Donuts’ and Starbucks’ pumpkin spice beverages. We then uploaded this data to Relative Insight’s text analysis platform to understand customers’ sentiments around each company’s fall drink specials.

Starbucks: the home of the archetypal pumpkin spice girl

Our competitor analysis found that the ‘basic-girl-who-drinks-lattes-at-Starbucks-stereotype’ is still very much engrained in people’s minds. This is evidenced by the fact that Twitter conversations around Starbucks’ pumpkin spice beverages were 1.8x more likely to mention ‘girls’ and ‘women’ than for Dunkin’ Donuts. 

“@scotttruhlar what is that sound? it is the sound of a thousand booted women in sweaters running to Starbucks to get their pumpkin spice latte 😜”

“my inner white girl is desperately waiting for the pumpkin cream cold brew to be released.#starbucks” 

“waking up early to get pumpkin Starbucks before class like the white girl I am 😍 🤞🏻”

But is the hype worth the price? 

As much as Starbucks girls love their pumpkin spice lattes, they also widely discuss the recent 4% price hike. Tweets around Starbucks’ pumpkin spice beverages are 2.5x more likely to mention costs and high prices than conversations around Dunkin’ Donuts. 

While some won’t let anything come in the way of indulging in their favorite fall beverage, others are thinking about giving up this increasingly expensive habit or are considering taking their business elsewhere. 

“I see the pumpkin spice latte is going to cost a little more than previous years. does Starbucks think that’s going to stop me? absolutely not.”

“almost$ 6 for a grande pumpkin spice latte at@starbucks!! @dunkindonuts>@starbucks half the price for double the coffee. see ya later starbs ✌”

“#dunkin pumpkin spice is trash 🤷🏼 ♀ yes price is better but#starbucks will always be the superior when it comes to#psl, I said what I said 👏🏻#pumpkinspice”

Dumpin’ Dunkin’ for its artificial flavors?

What stands out in consumer conversations around Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin spice beverages is that they are 2.3x times more likely to have conversations around taste, smell and flavors – mostly in a negative way. 

“the Dunkin pumpkin cold foam thing is unforgivable. tastes like water with aerosol nutmeg rediwhip languishing on top. just wait for Starbucks. don’t make the mistake I did.” 

“I 💗 you@dunkindonuts- but the iced pumpkin spiced latte tastes like iced beef ramen water with milk. 🤮 back to my signature caramel swirl! I tried to be basic!#pumpkinsucks”

People go even further, comparing Dunkin’s pumpkin spice beverages to candles. They are infinitely more likely to use the phrase ‘scented candle’ in their tweets around Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin spice lattes and cold brews. 

“Dunkin’ donuts pumpkin spice latte tastes like drinking a cheap pumpkin spice scented candle.” 

“Dunkin pumpkin cream cold brew tastes like I’m eating a scented candle”

What do these insights mean for Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Equipped with these insights, Starbucks could consider developing a marketing campaign that specifically targets women and girls who fall into the pumpkin spice girl archetype. The negative impact of price increases and general high pricing, on the other hand, might be used to inform pricing strategy. 

In the case of Dunkin’ Donuts, the company could take the negative customer feedback concerning the taste of its pumpkin spice beverages back to its menu development team to improve the taste of products for next year. What’s more, Dunkin’ Donuts might leverage the fact that customers appreciate the affordability of its beverages for upcoming marketing campaigns. 

Relative Insight helps businesses like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts analyze audience conversations from social media, customer service transcripts, reviews and survey open-ends at scale. This type of actionable business intelligence can help companies optimize their products, services and marketing strategies in a way that best meet the needs of their target audiences. 

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