On Tuesday, breakfast-focused fast food restaurant Dunkin’ Donuts announced its new fall menu, which many Americans know will feature trendy pumpkin spice-flavored choices. It’s a hot menu item in U.S. fast food marketing to feature the ever-popular pumpkin flavored treats as customers prepare to pull out their sweaters and get ready for the holiday season.
This year Dunkin’ went big by hiring Ice Spice, a rapper with new-found fame who has a name that can play well with many of the fall menu drink choices. She was joined by actor Ben Affleck in a commercial that premiered at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.
Jill McVicar Nelson, a chief marketing officer at Dunkin’, said in the company’s press release, “Pumpkin spice season has gotten a bit predictable lately, so we sought help from our friends Ben Affleck and Ice Spice to create a new pumpkin obsession that only Dunkin’ can offer.”
Nelson is right. The pumpkin spice fall shtick has become very predictable, cliché, and even tired for many American consumers.
It’s a strange curiosity in other parts of the world. The Australian website “delicious” asked the question years ago: “Why are Americans so obsessed with pumpkin spice?” The author boiled it down to marketing, and an age-old trick in that industry of making something available for a limited time. It builds up hype.
There’s a chance that the hype causes customers to temporarily forget about the health impact of what’s actually in these menu items. Or maybe many rationalize it as a one-off special treat.
Dunkin’s fall menu has a list of drinks that will caffeinate you and satiate that sweet tooth. A dietitian recently told Prevention magazine that Dunkin’s pumpkin spice latte (or PSL, as it’s now colloquially known) arrives to you in a cup at a whopping 540 calories. That’s the same amount of calories as an entire decently sized meal.
The amount of carbs in the large size of the drink is equivalent to about five slices of bread, according to RDN Diana Sugiuchi.
Dunkin’s press release on Tuesday didn’t mention options for sugar-conscious consumers. The company does provide customers with a link on its website to nutrition information in PDF form, and another document on allergen information and ingredients in its products. But, with consumers able to use the restaurant’s many drive-thru facilities, it’s unlikely many will stop to read the website in their vehicles to confirm sugar contents and other ingredients in the same way they might on boxes while shopping at a supermarket.
About 64% of Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins locations around the United States have drive-thru options at stores. That means that its consumers are likely looking for a fast fix to their cravings.
This year, Dunkin’ called its Pumpkin Swirl drink its “most sought-after flavor.” The drink contains liquid cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, caramel color, corn syrup solids, non-dairy creamer, soy lecithin, corn syrup solids, carrageenan, artificial flavors, salt, and at least one preservative contained in the drinks over 65 ingredients listed on Dunkin’s website.
On the social media presence for the account FlavCity, content creator Bobby Parrish promotes healthier food options and warns his followers about high levels of unhealthy ingredients.
A video he made focusing on Dunkin’s Pumpkin Swirl drink gained over 200,000 likes on TikTok. In it, he sits down with what appears to be a large size of the menu item. He points to a print out of Dunkin’ Donuts ingredients warning followers of the published 185 grams of sugar in it.
That, he says, is 46 teaspoons of sugar, which was able to fill up nearly half of a normal sized plastic Dunkin’ drink cup. He said you could eat 14 of their glazed donuts and it would be the same amount of sugar.
Dunkin’ published sugar and calorie counts online here.
Drinking a frozen drink, though, makes consuming all of that sugar easier. Experts say eating too much sugar can contribute to acne, weight gain and lethargy. Consuming too much over the long-term can bring on a host of chronic diseases.
“Often, we don’t register feeling as full when we drink something as we do when we eat the same amount of calories,” Sugiuchi told Prevention.
So, when large fast food companies market items that are available for a limited time, experts would agree: It would be wise to check the ingredients in those items, and not be blinded by the hype or the excitement of the season.