The Pumpkin Spice Tax: Retailers Charge More, Shoppers Get Less for Pumpkin-Flavored Products

Cue the pumpkin spice tax rebellion.

A MagnifyMoney analysis of pumpkin spice-flavored items at several grocery stores and coffee shops found that customers often pay a premium for that perennial autumn flavor — in essence, a “pumpkin spice tax” that can be up to 133 percent higher on a per-unit (ounces) basis.

In the study, we compared the prices of the pumpkin spice and standard flavors of more than 200 food and beverage items at a half-dozen Manhattan-area retailers and restaurants in late September. We reviewed items in person at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Fairway, CVS, Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Panera, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s. We supplemented our findings with a review of products at three online retailers — Walmart.com, Target.com and FreshDirect.com.

Pumpkin spice mania has reached a fever pitch in recent years, as retailers have rushed to incorporate the flavor into just about every item in our pantries — from cookies and cereals to bagels and waffle mixes.

Not only are some retailers charging significant surcharges on pumpkin spice-flavored products, but consumers are often paying more and getting less in return.

Read on for our full analysis. Or skip ahead to:

Retailer Spotlights:

Key Findings:

Pumpkin spice fans often pay more for less. Many retailers don’t just charge more for seasonal items — they give shoppers less product for their money. On FreshDirect.com, for example, a 6.5-oz. Pumpkin Pie Spice version of Land O’Lakes Spreadable Butter sold for $2.99, while the 8-oz. Land O’Lakes Spreadable Butter With Canola Oil sold for about 10 cents less, or $2.89. On a price per ounce basis, the Pumpkin pie spice option sold at a 28 percent premium. We found many more examples of retailers charging more for pumpkin-flavored products but offering less product.

Trader Joe’s was the worst pumpkin spice tax offender. Some retailers are more aggressive with pumpkin spice surcharges than others.. It claimed three of the top 10 highest pumpkin spice tax rates in our study. Among 10 products analyzed at Trader Joe’s, for example, we found an average pumpkin spice tax rate of 62%. By comparison, the average pumpkin spice tax rate at Target.com was just 14% across 20 items.

Coffee drinkers’ highest pumpkin spice premium? Welcome to Starbucks. The highest tax on the seasonal coffee drink was charged by the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s originator, Starbucks. The coffee chain charged $5.25 for its 16-oz. Pumpkin Spice Latte — exactly one dollar more than its 16-oz. Caffe Latte, sold for $4.25, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. That’s an effective pumpkin spice tax rate of 23.53%.

McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Whole Foods don’t charge a seasonal premium on most items. MagnifyMoney observed no significant pumpkin spice premium on any of the 10 seasonal items we identified at Whole Foods Market. Nor did we observe a premium on pumpkin spice drink options at McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.

The Top 10 Pumpkin Spice Tax Rates

Across all items reviewed, millennial-centric retailer Trader Joe’s charged the highest premiums on its pumpkin-flavored products. It claimed three of the top 10 highest pumpkin spice tax rates in our study.

The retailer is also one of several in our study that not only charges more for pumpkin-spice products but often offers less product by weight as well. That means shoppers are spending more but getting much less for their money.

Take Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix as one example. The national chain charged $1.99 for its 32-ounce Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle Mix and $2.99 for its 21.2-ounce Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix variation — $1 more for a product with 10 fewer ounces.

Based on the sticker price alone, shoppers may think they paid 50% more for the pumpkin spice version. But on a price-per-ounce basis, they paid more than twice the price — an effective pumpkin spice tax rate of 133%.

Trader Joe’s certainly wasn’t the only retailer taking advantage of the pumpkin spice hype.

At first glance, a Target.com shopper might see no difference in the price of Nabisco’s Oreos vs. the pumpkin spice version. As of late September, they had the same sticker price of $2.99. But the pumpkin spice version came with just 10.7 ounces — 3.6 ounces less than the original flavor. On a price per ounce basis, that’s an effective pumpkin spice tax rate of 33%.

See some of the highest-taxed items below. Percentages may be rounded, and list prices are used for comparisons. Per-unit cost is based on per-ounce figures where available, or per unit/count):

Pumpkin Spice Tax

Retailer

Product

Sticker Price

Price Per Oz./Unit

Per Oz./Unit

Sticker Price

1. Trader Joe's

Buttermilk Pancake
and waffle mix — 32 oz.

$1.99

$0.06

133%

50.25%

Pumpkin Pancake and
waffle mix — 21.2 oz.

$2.99

$0.14

2. Trader Joe's

Joe Joe's cookies —
20 oz.

$2.99

$0.15

87%

0.00%

Pumpkin Joe Joe's —
10.5 oz.

$2.99

$0.28

3. Trader Joe's

Joes O's —
15 oz.

$1.99

$0.13

69%

35.18%

Pumpkin O's —
12 oz.

$2.69

$0.22

4. Walmart.com

Twinings of London
Winter Holiday Spiced
Apple Chai, K-Cup
Portion Pack — 12 ct.

$8.11

$0.68

59%

60.17%

Twinings Pumpkin
Spice Chai Tea Keurig
K-Cups — 12 ct.

$12.99

$1.08

5. Target.com

Archer Farms Dark Chocolate Almonds — 13 oz.

$5.99

$0.46

59%

-33.4%

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Almonds — 5.5 oz.

$3.99

$0.73

6. Target.com

Krusteaz Honey
Cornbread & Muffin
Mix — 15 oz.

$1.67

$0.11

36.4%

35.9%

Krusteaz Pumpkin
Spice Muffin
Mix — 15 oz.

$2.27

$0.15

7. Target.com

Oreo Original
Chocolate Sandwich
Cookies — 14.3 oz.

$2.99

$0.21

33%

0.00%

Oreo Pumpkin
Spice Creme Sandwich
Cookies — 10.7 oz.

$2.99

$0.28

8. FreshDirect

Land O'Lakes
Spreadable Butter With
Canola Oil — 8 oz.

$2.89

$0.36

28%

3.46%

Land O'Lakes
Spreadable Butter,
Pumpkin Pie
Spice — 6.5 oz.

$2.99

$0.46

9. Walmart.com

Victor Allen's
Coffee Donut Shop
Blend Medium Roast
Single Serve Brew
Cups — 0.35 oz., 12 ct.

$3.25

$0.27

26%

26.8%

Victor Allen's Coffee
Pumpkin Spice Medium
Roast Single Serve Brew
Cups — 0.34 oz., 12 ct.

$4.12

$0.34

10. Walmart.com

Entenmann's Dark
Roast Coffee Single Serve
Cups — 0.35 oz, 10 ct.

$6.99

$0.69

23.2%

21.6%

Entenmann's Coffee
Pumpkin Spice Cups —
10 ct.

$8.50

$0.85

The above items were reviewed in-person at retailers in the Chelsea area of Manhattan on Sept. 22 and with online retailers on Sept. 25-26.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte Tax

Some may notice that the coveted pumpkin spice latte (PSL) — made popular by Starbucks after its debut in fall 2003 and now offered by coffee shops worldwide — typically carries a noticeable mark-up.

Starbucks’ grande-size PSL, for example, is sold at a 23.5% premium above the price of its non-pumpkiny caffe latte counterpart.

Pret a Manger and Panera also charge more for pumpkin lattes, although neither quite as high as Starbucks.

What you ultimately pay for your PSL may simply come down to how you like your coffee. You won’t pay a PSL tax at McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts, but If you prefer Starbucks or Panera, paying the premium may be worth what you get.

Here’s what it will cost you to buy a 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte at some prominent national coffee chains in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

Coffee Shop

Product

Sticker
Price

Pumpkin Spice
Tax Rate

Starbucks

Caffe Latte
16 oz.

$4.25

23.53%

Pumpkin Spice Latte
16 oz.

$5.25

Pret A Manger

Latte
16 oz.

$3.59

13.93%

Spiced Pumpkin Latte
16 oz.

$4.09

Starbucks

Chai Latte
16 oz.

$4.45

11.24%

Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
16 oz.

$4.95

Panera Bread

Caffe Latte
16 oz.

$4.09

4.89%

Pumpkin Spice Latte
16 oz.

$4.29

Dunkin’ Donuts

Latte
16 oz.

$2.99

0.00%

Pumpkin Flavored Latte
16 oz.

$2.99

McDonald’s

Latte
16 oz.

$2.59

0.00%

Pumpkin Spice Latte
16 oz.

$2.59

The above items were reviewed in-person at retailers in the Chelsea area of Manhattan on Sept. 22.

Retailer Spotlight: Trader Joe’s

As mentioned above, America’s favorite favorite grocery store after Publix and Wegmans had the highest-taxed seasonal items in our analysis.

Among the highest-taxed items: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix — costing much more per ounce than TJ’s Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle Mix — and Joe Joe’s cookies.

Both the seasonal and nonseasonal Joe Joe’s are priced at $2.99 on the sticker. However, the seasonal Pumpkin Joe Joe’s cost 28 cents per ounce, while the regular Joe Joe’s cost 15 cents an ounce. In this case, customers pay almost double per ounce — something like the same price for half the cookies.

MagnifyMoney reached out to Trader Joe’s for comment but did not receive a response.

See below for a breakdown of some products.

Trader Joe's

Pumpkin Spice Tax

Product

Sticker Price

Price Per Oz./Unit

Per Oz./Unit

Sticker Price

Buttermilk pancake and
waffle mix — 32 oz.

$1.99

$0.06

133%

50.25%

Pumpkin pancake and waffle mix — 21.2 oz.

$2.99

$0.14

Joe Joe's cookies — 20 oz.

$2.99

$0.15

87%

0.00%

Pumpkin Joe Joe's — 10.5 oz.

$2.99

$0.28

Joes O's — 15 oz.

$1.99

$0.13

69%

35.18%

Pumpkin O's — 12 oz.

$2.69

$0.22

Plain bagels — 6 ct.

$2.29

$0.38

10.5%

8.73%

Pumpkin bagels — 6 ct.

$2.49

$0.42

Gluten-free buttermilk
pancake mix — 18 oz.

$3.99

$0.22

9.1%

12.53%

Gluten-free pumpkin
pancake mix — 18.5 oz.

$4.49

$0.24

The above items were reviewed in-person at the Trader Joe’s at 675 6th Ave. in New York City on Sept. 22.

Retailer Spotlight: Target

We found the highest seasonal-item, per-unit “tax” at Target.com on chocolate-covered pumpkin spice almonds.

At first glance, the seasonal almonds look cheaper than the comparable dark chocolate-covered almonds, sold in a larger package. When you look closer, you realize the pumpkin spice almonds are sold for almost 60 percent more per ounce. However, it’s important to note the discrepancy could be due to the difference in packaging.

MagnifyMoney contacted Target for comment but did not receive a response.

See below for a breakdown of the PST applied online at Target.com.

Target.com

Pumpkin Spice Tax

Product

Sticker Price

Price Per Oz./Unit

Per Oz./Unit

Sticker Price

Archer Farms Dark Chocolate Almonds — 13 oz.

$5.99

$0.46

59%

-33.4%

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Almonds
— 5.5 oz.

$3.99

$0.73

Krusteaz Honey Cornbread &
Muffin Mix — 15 oz.

$1.67

$0.11

36.4%

35.9%

Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice
Muffin Mix — 15 oz.

$2.27

$0.15

Oreo Original Chocolate
Sandwich Cookies — 14.3 oz.

$2.99

$0.21

33%

0.00%

Oreo Pumpkin Spice Creme
Sandwich Cookies — 10.7 oz.

$2.99

$0.28

International Delight® French
Vanilla Singles Coffee Creamer — 24 ct.

$2.64

$0.11

18.2%

20.8%

International Delight Pumpkin
Spice Coffee Creamer — 24 ct.

$3.19

$0.13

Tazo Organic Tea Latte
Chai Black Tea — 32 fl. oz.

$3.14

$0.10

10%

11.2%

Tazo Chai Pumpkin Spice
Latte Tea Concentrate — 32 fl. oz.

$3.49

$0.11

Keurig Green Mountain Breakfast
Blend Light Roast Coffee — K-Cup Pods — 18 ct.

$10.99

$0.61

9.8%

9.1%

Keurig Green Mountain Coffee
Pumpkin Spice Coffee K-Cups — 18 ct.

$11.99

$0.67

KISSES Halloween Fall Harvest
Milk Chocolates — 11 oz./approx. 69 ct.

$3.59

$0.33

9.1%

0.00%

KISSES Halloween Fall Harvest
Pumpkin Spice — 10 oz./approx. 64 ct.

$3.59

$0.36

Tazo Chai Black Tea — 20 ct.

$3.14

$0.16

6.3%

11.2%

Tazo Chai Pumpkin Spice
Tea — 20 ct.

$3.49

$0.17

Quaker Fruit & Cream Instant
Oatmeal Variety — 8 ct.

$2.59

$0.32

6.25%

5.8%

Quaker Pumpkin Spice Instant
Oatmeal Limited Edition — 8 ct.

$2.74

$0.34

Archer Farms Antioxidant Trail Mix — 9 oz.

$5.99

$0.67

-50.7%

-50.1%

Archer Farms Trail Mix Pumpkin Spice —
9 oz.

$2.99

$0.33

The above items were reviewed online, at Target.com, on Sept. 25-26.

Retailer Spotlight: Walmart

At Walmart.com, the most-taxed item was tea. Specifically: Twinings of London’s Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Keurig Cups. Compared with the brand’s Winter Holiday Spiced Apple Chai flavor, the pumpkin spice variant costs about 60 percent more for the same number of cups. MagnifyMoney contacted Walmart for comment but did not yet receive a response.

See below for a breakdown of the Pumpkin Spice Tax applied online at Walmart.com.

Walmart.com

Pumpkin Spice Tax

Product

Sticker Price

Price Per Oz./Unit

Per Oz./Unit

Sticker Price

Twinings of London Winter Holiday
Spiced Apple Chai, K-Cup Portion Pack — 12 ct.

$8.11

$0.68

59%

60.17%

Twinings Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea
Keurig K-Cups — 12 ct.

$12.99

$1.08

Victor Allen's Coffee Donut Shop
Blend Medium Roast Single Serve Brew Cups —
0.35 oz., 12 ct.

$3.25

$0.27

26%

26.8%

Victor Allen's Coffee Pumpkin Spice
Medium Roast Single Serve Brew Cups —
0.34 oz., 12 ct.

$4.12

$0.34

Entenmann's Dark Roast Coffee
Single Serve Cups — 0.35 oz., 10 ct.

$6.99

$0.69

23.2%

21.6%

Entenmann's Coffee Pumpkin
Spice Cups — 10 ct./p>

$8.50

$0.85

Coffee-Mate Sweetened Original
Liquid Coffee Creamer — 1.5-liter pump bottle

$24.36

$0.48

18.7%

19%

Coffee-Mate Liquid Creamer, Pumpkin Spice — 1.5-liter pump bottle

$28.98

$0.57

Keurig K-Cups, Green Mountain
Nantucket Blend Coffee — 18 ct.

$10.98

$0.61

8.2%

8.74%

Keurig K-Cups Green Mountain
Pumpkin Spice Coffee — 18 ct.

$11.94

$0.66

Nestle Professional Coffee-Mate
Peppermint Mocha Liquid Coffee Creamer Singles,
Peppermint Mocha Flavor — 0.38 fl. oz. - 50/box

$15.04

$0.30

6.7%

6.3%

Nestle Coffee-Mate Pumpkin Spice
Liquid Coffee Creamer — 50-0.375 fl. oz. tubs

$15.99

$0.32

Oreo Sandwich Cookies — 14.3 oz.

$3.83

$0.27

3.7%

-22.2%

Oreo Sandwich Cookies Pumpkin
Spice — 10.7 oz.

$2.98

$0.28

Pepperidge Farm Milano Milk
Chocolate Cookies — 6 oz. pack

$3.83

$0.64

-14.1%

0.00%

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice
Milano Cookies — 7 oz.

$3.83

$0.55

Lindt Lindor Hazelnut Milk
Chocolate Truffles — 5.1 oz.

$3.78

$0.74

-16.2%

16.4%

Lindt Lindor Milk Chocolate Truffles
Pumpkin Spice — 5.1 oz.

$3.16

$0.62

Quaker Life Multigrain Cereal,
Vanilla — 18 oz. box

$3.83

$0.21

-19%

-21.7%

Quaker Life Pumpkin Spice
Multigrain Cereal Limited Edition — 18 oz.

$3.00

$0.17

International Delight French Vanilla
Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer Singles — 24 ct. box

$3.28

$0.14

-28.6%

-24.4%

International Delight Pumpkin Pie
Spice Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer Singles — 24 ct. box

$2.48

$0.10

The above items were reviewed online, at Walmart.com, on Sept. 25-26.

The future of pumpkin spice

The latest Nielsen data shows Americans’ taste for all things pumpkin spice is still going strong, but has begun to wane in recent years. Sales of pumpkin-themed consumer goods were up 6.3 percent in 2017, bringing in $414 million vs. $389.5 million in 2016.  But that was a slower rate of growth than the year prior, when sales grew by 10.8%.

Still, that won’t stop retailers from seizing an opportunity to cash in on the trend while it’s still hot, said food industry analyst and editor of Supermarketguru.com, Phil Lempert.

“A lot of that has to do with the time of year that it is packed and the amount of money that it takes to store those products…which is why at times we are going to see higher prices on those products,” he told MagnifyMoney.

Lempert added that companies have to make up the cost of carrying and storing the additional seasonal items in a warehouse.  “You want to get it out there at a fair price but you want to cover your costs otherwise you don’t have a business,” he said.

If you’re determined to get your pumpkin spice kick this year, the longer you wait to buy, the more likely you’ll be able to score a deal. Seasonal items tend to get the steepest price cuts as the season ends and retailers move to clear out their inventory.

The post The Pumpkin Spice Tax: Retailers Charge More, Shoppers Get Less for Pumpkin-Flavored Products appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

4 Toy Trends Your Kids Will Love This Year

A look at the upcoming trends and coolest toys featured at Toy Fair New York.

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How to Find the Perfect Pillow

buy_a_pillow

Been pillow shopping lately? If not, get ready for a big array of shopping choices. You’ll find neck pillows, body pillows, memory foam pillows, anti-snore pillows, “cool” pillows, oxygen-promoting pillows, cervical pillows and blow-up pillows — to name a few. There are pillows made of foam, memory foam, down, cotton, latex, buckwheat hulls, wool and “down alternatives,” tiny pillows and huge ones, with prices that range from a few dollars to an Icelandic eiderdown pillow — on sale —for over $10,000.

How is a sleeper to choose? A wrong choice could mean you’re stuck with a pillow you don’t want, so be sure to check a store’s return policies before buying.

How Old is Your Pillow?

The headache of pillow shopping is enough to keep you snuggled up with your old one for years and years. But don’t do that. A rule of thumb says pillows should be replaced every 12 to 18 months. (Polyester and down pillows can go in the washer and dryer in the meantime.) By two years, your pillow should be headed to the dump. Good Housekeeping advises:

“If you have a traditional fiberfill pillow, fold it in half and place a book on top of it,” says Lexie Sachs, textiles analyst in the Good Housekeeping Institute. “If it springs back to shape, it’s still good. But if it stays folded in half, it’s time for a new one.” Memory foam pillows that are crumbly or no longer hold their shape also need to go.

The most important reason to dump an aged pillow is because of dust mites — the microscopic, creepy looking little bugs that take up residence in bedding and rapidly multiply in homes, especially when the humidity is high.

Dust mites don’t bite. The problem is the accumulation of their waste and carcasses. Many people are allergic to a substance in dust-mite waste that can cause rashes, asthma and sinusitis. If you’re allergic to dust mites, you can buy protective pillow covers made of tightly woven material (found in bedding stores and online) for your new pillows.

Unsure if you’re allergic? You can find out by getting tested by an allergist, a physician who treats people for allergies.

Need more reasons to trade your old pillows for new ones? Mold, mildew and fungus also build up in pillows. Not what you want to plant your face on night after night.

Shopping Tips

While pillow shopping seems daunting, you can keep it simple by focusing on basics: You want a pillow that’s comfortable, supportive and keeps your head and neck properly aligned while you sleep. If possible, lie down and try out pillows in a store. But that’s not often feasible, so lean against a wall using the pillow as you would in bed. Sleep expert and author Michael Breus tells WebMD that it’s a good idea to ask someone to tell you if the pillow keeps your neck lined up straight with your body.

As for cost, don’t feel you must spend big bucks. “Price isn’t necessarily an indicator of performance,” according to Consumer Reports. Take your time shopping, trying out a variety of types, shapes and sizes of pillows in your price range.

Consumer Reports also suggests:

  • Compare pillows for firmness: Put each on a flat surface and press with your palm until the pillow is squeezed to about half its original thickness. The harder you have to press, the firmer the pillow will be for sleeping.
  • Examine the construction: Look for tidy stitches and straight seams. The fill should be spread evenly, and the zipper should be strong and work smoothly.
  • Give it the sniff test: Buying a memory foam pillow? Put your nose into it and smell it. Some have a chemical odor, although it may disappear after a bit of use.

What Type of Sleeper Are You?

Here’s another approach to pillow-shopping: Match your pillow with your sleeping style.

Buying pillows is like buying a mattress: You can’t really tell by spending only a few minutes on a mattress or pillow whether they’re right for you. (Here’s how to shop for a mattress).

You can up your odds of success by noticing how you sleep. Predominately on your back? Your stomach? Your side? Each position benefits from a different type of pillow, Consumer Reports says. Some pillows are even labeled as best for a particular position.

  • Back sleepers: Look for a slim pillow so your head won’t be pushed too far forward, straining your neck. Some back sleepers like a pillow whose lower third is fatter than the rest of the pillow. The fat part fits snugly into the curve of your neck and supports it.
  • Side sleepers: Kammi Bernard, physical therapist at Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, tells Web MD that she advises side sleepers find a pillow firm enough to fill the space between the ear and shoulder.
  • Stomach sleepers: Use a very thin pillow or none at all for the head and consider also using a thin pillow under your stomach, which can help prevent back pain.

How Much Does Cost Matter?

Consumer Reports wanted to learn if cost matters when it comes to sleepers’ satisfaction with their pillows so the magazine gave 71 of its staff members two versions of their favorite (polyester, feather/down or memory foam) type of pillow, one a high-end product and the other an inexpensive pillow: Testers tried each pillow for five nights in a row.

Some sleepers preferred the more-expensive polyester-filled and down-filled pillows. But, CR says, their opinions on a pillow’s firmness, fluffiness, flatness and size mattered almost as much as price. As for memory foam, the testers reported not much difference between expensive and cheap pillows.

The Best Fill Material

The fill material you choose is a matter of personal preference. If you like a fluffy pillow, down’s probably the stuff you want. If down’s too expensive, look for a combination of down and feathers. Down alternatives are great for people with allergies who prefer a fluffy pillow.

Fans of memory foam pillows prefer the dense support this material gives. If you do buy memory foam, make sure the pillow fits your body well since foam won’t compact and become smaller as down and polyester pillows do.

If you are still undecided, consider the compromise that chiropractor Dr. Darren Pollack suggests, at Good Housekeeping:

“I like to recommend a hybrid pillow that has a memory foam core surrounded with a softer down or synthetic layer. This version offers support and comfort, and can adapt as you change position throughout the night.”

This post first appeared on Money Talks News.

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