Last week, I popped into CVS on my way home from work to pick up a new stick of deodorant. It was 88 degrees out and forecasted to be just as hot the following day. As I walked to the deodorant aisle, sweaty from the mere two-block walk from my office, I passed a huge display of orange, black, and purple. There, for all entering customers to see, were piles of Halloween candy and a few shelves filled with fall decor. As I do nearly every year, I thought to myself, Isn't it a little early?
The answer, it turns out, is no."Retailers really do drive the timing thing," Ted Roumanis, a partner at Positive, a brand development and qualitative market research firm, tells Refinery29. "They think ahead because they want to try and drive as much volume as possible." The experience of seeing Halloween candy in August, which anyone who has stepped into a retail chain in the last few weeks can probably identify with, is one of the main examples of how heightened seasonality is pushed all year round.
Of course, retailers wouldn't have 12 different kinds of candy corn and pumpkin spice Spam to put in those end cap displays if it weren't for the brands creating them. General Mills, which owns popular food brands in 15 different categories from baking products to cereals, normally announces fall seasonal products at the end of August or the beginning of September. Based on market research and consumer trends, the company knows people generally start thinking about those products around Labor Day. However, you might find those products well before the tail-end of August.
"There are times that the products will appear on store shelves earlier based on in-store promotions that may be taking place," Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for General Mills tells Refinery29. "[Retailers] have quite a bit of control. There may be a time that we want to launch a product, but they're doing a reset either before or after that so we make sure the product is available for their needs." While both brands and retailers benefit from the incremental sales that come from seasonal products, it's not usually the brands that are driving the early push.
Consumers often wonder why it seems like seasonal products get released earlier and earlier every year. That too depends on the retailers. Lauren, who runs the popular junk food-related Instagram account @CandyHunting and prefers not to disclose her last name, tells Refinery29 that this year, a fellow snack food fan account, @munchiebunchie, found limited edition Creepy Cocoa Crisp M&M's at Target on July 14. It's been over a month since that discovery, and the candy has yet to be officially announced on M&M's social media accounts or through a press release from Mars.
Where you shop does tend to have an impact on the feeling of seasons beginning earlier each year, but according to Roumanis, it’s a perception that can also be blamed on technology, which gives brands and retailers more opportunities to push seasonality. “It used to be you just went to the store and you saw the decorations up for Halloween or Christmas, but now, if you’re at the store, on your phone, following a social media influencer, you’re being overly bombarded by this idea of ‘Well, I have to engage in this event or experience earlier.’” If you follow snack food accounts or if you read digital outlets that report on the snack foods these accounts find, it amplifies the early seasonal push.
Though the hottest part of the summer seems like an odd time for fall products to roll out, it does make some sense for the retailer and brand perspective. "Yes, we're in the middle of summer, but there hasn't really been anything to talk about from a seasonal marketing perspective since July 4th and Memorial Day," Roumanis says. Lauren of CandyHunting concurs that this gap contributes to fall product release dates. "It feels like fall seasonal products appear earlier and earlier each year because there is no official start date to the season," she explains. "With winter seasonal products, for example, there is a hard start date the day after Halloween. While fall officially starts in late September, there is a large gap between when summer seasonal products debut (around May) and the official start of fall, so companies fill that gap by offering fall products earlier."
Brands and retailers work together to push early seasonal marketing, but consumers contribute to the trend in their own way. One group of consumers really embraces the early marketing of seasonal items because they are planners. Roumanis explains that this group likes to be able to buy their fall decorations and Halloween party supplies sooner so they don't have to stress about it later. The other consumer group Roumanis names falls prey to early seasonal marketing tactics. These consumers are known as impulse purchasers. "The reality is we live in a society of instant gratification and technology fuels that," he tells us.
So, we have the planners and the impulse buyers, both of whom make purchases that justify these early rollouts of fall items every year, but there is yet another group that gives an even more obvious boost to fall seasonal sales: They're known as the fall fanatics.
One such group of autumn lovers centers on the biggest product drop of fall — Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte. There's a 32,204-member Facebook group called the Leaf Rakers Society dedicated to counting down the days until the PSL's return. This kind of extreme enthusiasm does have an impact: "There's not really a science to when Starbucks releases any new products," a Starbucks spokesperson tells Refinery29. "We just know that customers love pumpkin spice and its timeless taste, and people want to celebrate it year-round so we're just meeting customer demand there." This year, the beverage made its return earlier than ever, a full 27 days before the first official day of autumn.
Those who identify as "Leaf Rakers" aren't the only ones who love counting down to the beginning of a new season. Lauren of CandyHunting says she too finds seasonal product launches particularly thrilling. "Instead of looking for one or two new products, I'm looking for dozens. I spotted an end cap that was completely pumpkin spice items over the weekend and jumped backward in astonishment. I wish I could have seen the CCTV footage of that!"
With support from retailers, brands, and customers, the middle of August, it seems, is not actually too early to start celebrating fall... I came to this realization myself when I grabbed a pumpkin-shaped Reese's on my way to the CVS register last week.