NEW YORK — It may not be sweater weather yet, but the annual deluge of pumpkin-flavored treats is on its way.
Pumpkin-spice lattes went on sale at McDonald’s Corp. restaurants in some regions starting yesterday and are to be on sale at Starbucks Corp. cafes today.
American’s craving for pumpkin delicacies has become a seasonal ritual that has grown in recent years. The success of the Starbucks lattes, which the chain started selling about a decade ago, has prompted a deluge of pumpkin-flavored fare, including Pinnacle brand pumpkin-pie vodka from Beam Suntory Inc. and pumpkin-spice Jell-O from Kraft Foods Group Inc.
“Pumpkin itself is a comfort food,” said Bill Chidley, brand consultant at Change-Up in Dayton. “It’s just a perennial favorite, like turkey at Thanksgiving, eggnog at Christmas, fireworks on Fourth of July.”
U.S. pumpkin-flavored sales jumped 14 percent to about $308 million in 2013, according to Nielsen. The extra demand helped push pumpkin prices up 11 percent last year, according to a USDA report from March.
New and seasonal food offerings have become a main strategy that Starbucks and other restaurants are employing to boost sales. McDonald’s began selling its pumpkin lattes last year, while Dunkin’ Donuts has added pumpkin flavors to muffins, doughnuts, and coffees.
Starbucks, which has about 11,700 U.S. locations, said last year that it had sold more than 200 million pumpkin lattes since the introduction in 2003.
The world’s biggest coffee-shop operator also is offering pumpkin scones, pumpkin cream-cheese muffins, and Via pumpkin-spice instant latte drink mixes this year.
Other eateries are trying to compete with Starbucks’ pumpkin lattes with new items. Dunkin’ Donuts is rolling out pumpkin creme brulee coffee for this year, and Baskin-Robbins is introducing pumpkin-cheesecake flavored ice cream this month.
McDonald’s is selling its pumpkin lattes this year only in certain regions “where it’s right” for customers, including some sites in Atlanta and the Midwest, a company spokesman said.