Rebekah Schouten headshotKANSAS CITY — Restaurants are rolling out their fall menus earlier than ever this year. Starbucks started serving its Pumpkin Spice Latte on Aug. 24. Dunkin’ debuted its autumn offerings on Aug. 19. The first out of the gate was Jamba, which began pouring its Pumpkin Smash Smoothie on Aug. 10. But is August too soon for fall flavors?

“I don’t think ‘too soon’ is a thing right now,” said Nic Climer, managing partner and executive creative director at Omnicom Group Inc. marketing agency RAPP. “People are still really craving something to look forward to these days, so brands have a huge opportunity to bring people joy. If pumpkin spice is your thing, and your audience loves it, people need that extra zing in their life right now.”

Pumpkin is still the most popular flavor of the season, showing up in everything from coffee and smoothies to breadsticks and ice cream. Restaurants are opting to offer more plant-based pumpkin options this year, though. Smoothie King’s new Keto Champ Pumpkin Smoothie is made with almond milk, Black Rock Coffee Bar is serving a Shaken Iced Pumpkin Espresso with Oat Milk, and Peet’s Coffee is pouring the Pumpkin Oat Foam Cold Brew.

While pumpkin is popping up all over menus, the fall flavor has some competition. Panera is pouring a new Cinnamon Crunch Latte, inspired by the bakery-cafe chain’s popular Cinnamon Crunch Bagel.

“People are still really craving something to look forward to these days, so brands have a huge opportunity to bring people joy." 
— Nic Climer, RAPP

“It’s time to upgrade your ‘basic’ tendencies and explore a new fall latte,” Panera said. “Because, let’s face it, Cinnamon Crunch trumps pumpkin.”

Apple also is appearing as a contender, starring in the new Apple Crisp Macchiato from Starbucks, the Apple Cranberry Refresher from Dunkin’, the Apple Cider Cappuccino and Apple Pie Cold Brew from Pilot Flying J, and the Apple of my Pumpkin Pie Creation at Cold Stone Creamery.

Other restaurants are sidestepping the staples of the season altogether. Tropical Smoothie Cafe is boasting a pumpkin spice-free autumn menu featuring a Strawberry Chia Lemonade Smoothie and Green Goddess Flatbread.

“Who says fall foods have to be heavy? At Tropical Smoothie Cafe, we're offering a vacation from pumpkin spice with fresh new items that you can feel good about enjoying,” said Charles Watson, chief executive officer of Tropical Smoothie Cafe. “Our Green Goddess Flatbread is hearty without being heavy, with vegetables and healthy protein choices that won't weigh you down.”

View slideshow of new fall 2021 menu items.