There's a huge battle brewing. No, it isn't the next season of Game of Thrones, or even the U.S. presidential race.
It's the annual battle of pumpkin spice supremacy, as food and beverage corporations go head to head over the seasonal brew and investors pick sides for profits.
Starbucks began the craze back in the fall of 2003 with the introduction of the first Pumpkin Spice Latte. Since then, the U.S. has gone nuts about the fall flavor. And that means big money is at play.
Now companies are jostling to see which one can kick off the season first. Dunkin' Brands (DNKN) appears to have the lead for the time being. It announced last week that it will release its pumpkin spice-flavored goods on Aug. 29. That's a couple of days before McDonald's, which plans to release its "Pumpkin Spiced Latte" on Aug. 31. It's also more than a week ahead of Sept. 8, which is when Starbucks plans to start serving Pumpkin Spice Lattes. This is later than last year's Starbucks release date, but the company does have a reason: It's using a new recipe that involves real pumpkin puree (for better or for worse).
Revenue from Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Lattes totaled around $100 million last year. In all, Starbucks has sold more than 200 million of these drinks since 2003. And this year the company is doubling down, offering prepackaged pumpkin spice-flavored beverages and coffee K-cups in Costco and other grocery stores.
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Other companies have gotten in on the madness, hoping to grab a big piece of the pumpkin spice pie. After all, the flavor represents a $500 million-per-year market.
And Dunkin' Brands' Dunkin' Donuts chain is also pulling out all the stops this year, offering not only lattes but macchiatos, regular black coffee, donuts and Munchkins that have pumpkin spice flavor.
Dunkin' has been making a play for Starbucks' target audience, and it's been working. Even if Starbucks maintains its edge on pumpkin spice beverages, Dunkin' has plenty of treats for investors this year.
The company has introduced cold brew coffee, intended for the gourmet drink-loving millennial demographic. And it's released its own rewards system to rival that of the Seattle coffee giant. Dunkin' Donuts' app-based program recently enrolled its 5 millionth member. That makes it one of the country's most successful rewards programs.
Dunkin' Brands' stock is percolating right now, ticking up to near $49 per share. Watch out for any dips to scoop up shares of one of America's best-beloved brands.
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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.