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Pumpkin Spice Latte Creator Peter Dukes Initially Doubted the Drink’s Success

Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte
Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice LatteStarbucks

The Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks celebrates its fifteenth birthday this year, but believe it or not, the now iconic drink almost didn’t even make it onto the coffee chain’s menu!

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In conversation with Business Insider‘s podcast, Household Name, Peter Dukes, one of the project managers at Starbucks responsible for coming up with the pumpkin pie-inspired coffee that later became known as the Pumpkin Spice Latte, reveals initial testing showed reactions to the PSL, which was created to fill a need for a seasonal fall beverage, were lukewarm.

Though Dukes recalls tests indicated the “high in pumpkin and high in spice” beverage scored high in terms of “uniqueness,” focus group participants were wary about trying a drink that mixed coffee and pumpkin, a flavor combination that often resulted in head scratches back in 2003 when the PSL was first invented.

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That’s part of the reason why Dukes, who still works for Starbucks, initially felt the drink was a “long shot.” Still, Starbucks forged ahead and began testing the drink in stores that year, and even early sales indicated the chain had a hit on its hands. “I’ll never forget coming in and … looking at the numbers and how well it sold and then you just knew you had a winner,” Dukes explains, adding that the positive feedback from store managers and customers was almost instantaneous. “You just knew you had a beverage that was going to resonate.”

Dukes explains coming to terms with the incredible success of the PSL was “definitely a process,” but he isn’t bothered by the beverage’s “basic” label. “People seem to have fun with the PSL,” he says. Dubbing the drink “a marker of fall,” Dukes continues: “And, if that’s basic so be it.”

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Still, as evidenced by the drink’s earlier-than-usual August 28 release this year, not everyone is a PSL fan. “#PumpkinSpiceLatte in August is like getting an Xmas tree in October. Stop it,” one naysayer wrote.

Tell Us: Are you surprised the creator of the Pumpkin Spice Latte doubted the drink’s success?

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