I try to write my column with the utmost composure and professionalism, but today I just can’t do that. It’s late September, we’re approaching week four of college football season, the trees are bound to start shedding their leaves any moment now. If you can’t guess it already, I want a pumpkin spice latte! What’s the point of fall if you can’t have a PSL?
To summarize the above rant: Starbucks, bring vegan pumpkin spice lattes to the United States. Please. I’m begging you.
For those of you who choose to spend your time focusing on more substantive global issues, I’ll give you the rundown. In early 2003, a small team gathered in the Starbucks “Liquid Lab” sampling forkfuls of pumpkin pie and sips of espresso. In that fateful room, the Pumpkin Spice Latte was born, the drink that has come to embody crisp leaves, cozy sweaters and all things fall.
Part of the perfection of this recipe, however, was the pumpkin spice sauce. Most Starbucks flavored lattes, such as vanilla lattes and caramel macchiatos, involve a syrup. These syrups are completely dairy-free, so most drinks at Starbucks can easily be made vegan by swapping out the dairy milk for almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk. Even their mochas and hot chocolates can be made vegan using this method! This has made Starbucks a popular destination for vegans and dairy intolerant customers for a long time.
However, the pumpkin spice latte uses a sauce instead of a syrup, which supposedly makes it heavier, like a mouthful of pumpkin pie. This sauce contains condensed skim milk, meaning even if a dairy-free customer asks for a pumpkin spice latte with soy milk instead of dairy milk, the drink will still contain dairy in the sauce. Essentially, it’s impossible for a customer to order a dairy-free version of this drink.
In 2003, when the drink debuted, the dairy ingredient may not have posed a problem. However, in the past 15 years, our culture has changed drastically. The overall dairy alternatives market was estimated at about $7.4 billion in 2016 and is projected to extend to about $14.4 billion by 2022, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 11.7 percent. In addition, sales of total conventional fluid milk products decreased 6.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, and estimated sales of total organic fluid milk products decreased 5.6 percent from a year earlier. Basically, the market is begging for milk alternatives.
To understand just how milk-averse our culture is becoming, look at the non-dairy ice cream industry. When I stopped consuming dairy in 2015, I was hard-pressed to find ice cream to eat. I could find dairy-free sorbet pretty easily, and certain health brands carried dairy-free products that were called “ice cream” but tasted certainly didn’t like it. That was about it. Today, I’m amazed by how large the market has grown. I can walk into Meijer and find almost every ice cream brand in the store has at least a few flavors that don’t contain dairy. Likewise, most ice cream parlors in downtown Ann Arbor and even in the small towns I’ve visited carry some non-dairy options. Most importantly, it tastes like ice cream. My friends who still consume dairy (though they are becoming rarer and rarer) admit they can’t taste the difference between dairy ice cream and non-dairy ice cream.
In 2013, someone started a petition called “Please Make The Pumpkin Spice Latte Vegan.” This petition, which is now closed, has 11,631 supporters. Five years ago, before the vegan craze hit our culture, there was a clear demand for vegan pumpkin spice lattes.
Progress is being made, let’s be clear. This year Starbucks announced vegan pumpkin spice lattes would be made available across several European countries. This is great news, but I have two major problems with it. The first problem is I don’t live in Europe. The second problem is North America is projected has the fastest growing non-dairy market. Why is Europe the go-to location to launch vegan pumpkin spice lattes?
This fall, I have two wishes. The first is for the University of Michigan to beat Ohio State University, and the second is to enjoy a Pumpkin Spice Latte. One of these goals should be easily attainable if the right people decide they want to make it happen. To the team at the Starbucks Liquid Lab: Are you listening?
Hannah Harshe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.