Brand Stories: Magic Leap

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Founded in 2010 by Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap is a fast-growing startup that has been shrouded in mystery since its inception. In fact, it has earned the reputation as one of the most secretive firms in the tech industry, and its headquarters are located in Southern Florida to maintain its discretion (which would be nearly impossible if it were located in Silicon Valley).

The startup evolved from a small company called “Magic Leap Studios”, which was focused on creating a graphic novel series and feature film franchise. Abovitz had hired visual effects studio Weta Workshop to develop the imagery, following their work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

However, Abovitz became frustrated that the augmented and virtual reality world he’d read about in sci-fi novels wasn’t available in real life. He aimed to make it so. In 2011, Magic Leap Studios became a corporation, releasing an augmented reality app at Comic-Con that year called Hour Blue.

How They’re Trying to Change the World

Magic Leap is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display that has been compared to the Microsoft HoloLens. It superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects by tricking the brain into thinking that digital light signals created in the headset are in fact reality. Gizmodo said they are trying to build “a Google Glass on steroids that can seamlessly blend computer-generated graphics with the real world”.

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Forbes perfectly described the experience in relation to Pokemon Go: “VR takes you to another place. AR can make a Pikachu appear in your living room. Mixed reality keeps you where you are-and makes that Pikachu come to life.”

While this technology has outstanding potential for gaming and entertainment, Magic Leap aims to use it to revolutionize the way we work, communicate, and play.

Quick Success Led to a $4.5 Billion Valuation

Forbes estimated that Magic Leap was worth $4.5 billion, even though they have not released a product to market yet. It raised $1.4 billion from a list of impressive investors, including Google and China’s Alibaba Group.

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It earned highly publicized early contributions thanks to its overwhelming claims that the technology would “forever change the way we interact with images and information”. The prominent investors were convinced with early prototype demonstrations and technology that was still in development.

Standing Up to Big Competition

Magic Leap is not the first (or only) company to pursue mixed reality. Apple is working on an AR device, startups Meta and Atheer are working on their own headsets, and the MIT Media Lab has also constructed a 3D display using “compressed light fields”. The Microsoft HoloLens is the largest competitor and already has developer kits available. The difference, according to Magic Leap, is that Magic Leap’s breakthrough technology provides better resolution than the HoloLens, making it far superior.

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Misleading Claims Revealed

Most people who have tried Magic Leap have positive things to say. However, not all of the attention surrounding the startup has been good.

Magic Leap may have exaggerated what it was able to provide. In a recent interview, it was revealed that Magic Leap posted a misleading video demonstration of its tech. Magic Leap didn’t help things when it used YouTube videos to prove what its tech can do, using a video that was later revealed to be created by Weta Workshop.

As it stands now, the Magic Leap tech won’t outshine the Microsoft HoloLens’ tech. During a recent rare demo with The Information, the images produced by the headset were often blurrier and more jittery than Microsoft’s prototype.

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While the startup wasn’t ever planning on rushing to market, it seems as if the technology is in reality years away from completion. The fiber scanning display that was set to be Magic Leap’s breakthrough tech has also been demoted to a long-term research project. They have also promised to provide a small headset resembling glasses, but have not yet trimmed down from the bulky helmet prototype.

However, this hasn’t slowed Magic Leap, which just acquired the 3D division of Swiss computer vision company Dacuda and formed a partnership with Disney’s Lucasfilm and its ILMxLAB R&D unit to create a joint research lab at Lucasfilm’s San Francisco campus. Abovitz believes that one day, Magic Leap’s technology will replace phones, tablets, computers, and televisions.

Words of Wisdom from Scott Bedbury

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Four Branding Trends from Expo West 2017

Chris Burton, our Art Director, travelled all the way to Anaheim last week for Expo West 2017. The four-day event is the country’s largest natural foods show, and it gives industry professionals the opportunity to see what’s in store for the future of organic foods. Shifts in consumer tastes usually lead to major design shakeups, and here are four of the biggest packaging trends that we noticed.

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With consumers becoming increasingly interested in buying local small-batch products, branding is taking on a distinctly “handmade” look. Handwritten logos, drawings, and rough edges are all major trends, as brands are moving away from the overly polished “hipster” look of the last few years in favor of appearing wholesome and healthy.

ProteinFotoJet Collage2 Protein is in everything right now, from plant milk to pancakes (FlapJacked wins best name). As a result, we’re seeing categories looking a lot more diverse than they have in the past. For example, protein-packed cookie brand Bite Fuel is using a very heavy black font in all of its branding, which is unrecognizable from the bright colors and gentle script of more familiar players like Mrs. Fields and Famous Amos.

With this sudden interest in protein, we’re also seeing more artisanal varieties of meaty products like beef jerky. Duke’s came to Expo West with dried brisket and Cajun-style dried sausages, with elegant packaging that highlights the seasonings and flavor additives over the meat.

This protein phenomenon is manifesting itself in two ways – products that traditionally would not contain much protein are being set apart with strong, commanding designs, and products that have always been known to be great sources of protein are trying to appeal to new consumers.

 

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Consumers want to feel closer to the food that they eat, which means becoming more comfortable with the animals at the source. Meats, cheeses, and flavored snacks are all beginning to feature realistic depictions of livestock, sometimes using straight-up photographs.

Meat-and-dairy-free products are using images of animals as well. Los Angeles’s Kombucha Dog, for instance, puts photos of homeless dogs from local shelters on their labels, using store shelf space to help them find homes.

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Mascots were all over the place this year, which is interesting for a natural foods show – mascots are most commonly associated with sugary cereals and fast food. Brands are now recognizing that mascots can help build relationships with consumers, who can feel personal and emotional connections to them. They can also considerably boost a brand’s recognition potential, which is especially attractive for new products in crowded categories.

 

Original Packaging that was Better than the Redesign

Package redesigns are famously tricky. On the one hand, updating a product’s look can be an important part of appealing to new consumers and staying fresh in an evolving market. On the other hand, companies risk losing valuable brand equity when they sacrifice recognizable design. When faced with the challenge of a redesign, sometimes brands just don’t get it quite right, and would have been better off sticking with their original look. Here are three recent examples of redesigns that did not deliver the effect that companies intended.

Miracle Whip

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In Kraft’s defense, Miracle Whip was due for a modern upgrade. The redesign that they chose in 2009, however, was uninspiring and bland. It’s clear that they were trying to go more minimalist, but the result made the product look unappetizing and generic, with no indicators of flavor other than the words “The Tangy Original”. Kraft quickly realized the error of their ways, and in 2010 a new design was released that retained more of the fun and color of the original packaging.

Weight Watchers

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In 2012, Weight Watcher’s had their logo redesigned by Pentagram. Keeping with the trends of the time, they opted for a gradient and a heavy font, with no space between the words. The company, which sells products related to dieting ranging from books to packaged foods, wanted their new look to highlight the transformation that consumers experience through the brand. What they were not counting on, however, was that a vulgar British slang word was now smack dab in the middle of the logo, which consumers in the U.K. found very difficult to look past.

The Happy Meal

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Few things are as iconic to the children of America as the Happy Meal box. The simple, sweet design had a lot of personality, and it represented years of brand loyalty that McDonald’s had built with families. In 2014, the company decided to reintroduce mascots into their branding, including a new one in the form of “Happy”, whose realistic smile and crazy eyes terrified consumers. The new boxes quickly became the subject of public ridicule and scorn, inspiring everything from memes to thinkpieces about how McDonald’s had evidently lost their minds.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that all three of these companies – Kraft, Weight Watchers, and McDonald’s – are multimillion-dollar corporations with huge marketing teams and expensive consumer research, yet even they have gotten redesigns very, very wrong. It’s difficult work, and both the design community and the food and beverage industry are still figuring out the best ways of going about it. But for every failure, we all learn a little more about how to do better next time, which is especially true for companies that are as large as these three. If the public disaster of the new Happy Meal box prevented us from having to deal with more disturbing mascots that may have been in the works, then it was worth it.

Pop Culture Packaging: The Impact of TV and Movies on Design

Pop culture has always and will always be a great tool to leverage for information. It is a bridge that connects marketing teams to consumers when updating an old, tired look or developing a new product for a new target audience.

A Yale University study from a few years back revealed that the use of movie and TV characters on food packaging is designed to access certain feelings, memories, and associations, making them seem more desirable.

That’s why cartoon characters are often used on packaging to help sell junk food and other foods that companies are trying to appeal to little ones. Not that it’s all bad; for every Fred Flintstone on a cereal box, there is a Dora the Explorer or a Big Bird being used to help sell fruit and vegetables.

But it’s much more than food. Other brands have tied TV and movie character packaging to items such as wine, vitamins and even electronics.Homer-Marge-wine-572x354Tien Nguyen
, lead industrial designer for Studio One Eleven, a division of Berlin Packaging, says that in the past couple of years, the firm has noticed companies of all sizes have been leveraging endorsement from celebrities in the music, TV, and movie industries to gain more brand awareness, and the impact can be seen on packaging.

For example, Studio One Eleven recently launched a multivitamin gummies package with a leading nutritional supplements manufacturer, where they were able to leverage the multi-generational following of the Star Wars saga.

StarWarsVitaminsHero_2a “Our team designed and engineered special-edition overcaps based on the characters from the series to make their products more fun and appealing for kids and adults,” Nguyen says. “We were able to target both young kids that may be experiencing Star Wars for the first time (with the recent launch of Episode 7), and the diehard fans that fell in love with the saga from the original series.”

Davidson’s Organics—the first certified organic, fair trade and specialty tea company in the U.S.— just completed a package redesign for its 400 varieties of teas and accessories, centered around pop culture, such as its teas featuring movie legend Bruce Lee.BruceTea4 “We identified that millennials need to be visually stimulated with colors and buzzwords before they take a look at price and nutrition labels. We identified the words that young and old tea-drinkers look for, and put them on the face of our packaging,” says Davidson’s owner, Kunall Patel. “Pop culture has everything to do with what’s interesting right now. Every company should aim to stay that relevant in today’s fast-paced, social environment. No content is evergreen forever.”

A new energy drink released a few years ago capitalized on popular cartoon character, Popeye, who is known for his incredible strength after eating a can of spinach. That association led to a strong rollout.

“It’s important to stay in touch with the multi-cultural and ever changing lifestyle of today’s consumers, especially for younger and smaller companies. Staying up to date with trends and what consumers want is vital to build brand awareness and ultimately market shares among the larger players,” Nguyen says. “The CPG industry is a very fast pace industry. On average, we’ve seen companies target a complete redesign of both structure and branding within 2-3 years, depending on the breadth of their product portfolio.”

Before the Internet and social media, people were perhaps less informed, or they at least did not have such easily accessed resources to become informed. This led to the need for more content on packaging, as opposed to imaging.

“At that time, in order to create a brand, you first needed to introduce it. And more often than not, your first introduction to a consumer was through the physical handling of your packaging,” Patel says. “Now we’re able to establish brands through videos, websites, online images, etc. This emergence of visual interest has now led to this interest as it relates to physical products and their packaging. Our new packaging paints a picture worth a thousand words about content literally through brand imaging and design.”

Marvel has deals with numerous CPG companies—representing drinks, shampoos and yogurts—and you can find plenty of Pixar characters on packages of similar items when new movies come out.

Packaging that relies on TV or movies to help sell a product is a savvy move by companies, and is a strategy that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Colors that Yell

With the trend of minimalist, stark packaging still going so strong, some brands are pushing back with designs that scream from the shelf. Hot pink, blood orange, teal – all are showing up in product categories that have never gone so bold. We know that color choices evoke different emotional responses for consumers, and playing with combinations can help shoppers connect with brands. Clashing colors are also usually more memorable and therefore are great for brand recall, especially when the colors are unique to the product.

Using loud, expressive colors is a way for brands to differentiate a special edition product, allowing them to break out of their standard molds and appeal to new groups. This can be highly effective for brands looking to target younger consumers, who are appreciative of companies that are willing to take on a little edginess and aesthetic risk. Large brands looking to emulate the look and feel of small brands should take note of how the following companies have successfully crafted exciting packages by taking chances with color.

 

Harper Macaw

Last spring, D.C. chocolatier Harper Macaw released a series of bars inspired by the election. Naturally, the wrappers use bold reds and blues, and the result is gorgeous and striking. Rather than feeling like political cartoons, the chocolates are elegant and find the beauty within the absurdity of our current political climate. For a time that has been so stressful and dividing, at least we got a little something sweet out of it.

 

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Bud Light

Bud Light is now the official beer sponsor of South by Southwest, and the funky, psychedelic cans that they issued in limited release last year were such a hit that they are coming back for the 2017 festival. With bright blues, orange, yellow, red, purple, green, and a shock of black, the packaging perfectly captures the vibe of the festival and of the famously “weird” city of Austin.

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Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP

Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP sticks out like a sore thumb among competitors, with a heavy fuchsia font that pops (pun intended) against solid feminine backgrounds. This is a great example of how color clashing can be used in a way that is playful without being childish – this design communicates maturity while remaining effectively eye-catching. The color choices here indicate that the snack is something indulgent and luxurious, a cut above all of the Orville Redenbachers and the Act IIs.

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Wild Leaf

Most tea brands try to communicate the same themes: tranquility, peace, smoothness, etc. Wild Leaf has decided to take an entirely different approach, with wild colors that would be striking on their own and are even stronger when put together. Energetic and youthful, with a large callout for its specific properties, it’s certainly more fun than your grandma’s Lipton.

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Ciao Bella

The bright, beautiful color palette that Ciao Bella used for their line of gelatos is a great example of risk paying off. Brands of ice cream and similar treats often struggle with how to clearly target adults, and the rainbow of color could have easily made it seem like it was a dessert for children. Instead, the careful color pairings elevate the packaging to a new level of sophistication, while still looking just as visually interesting and trendy as competitors like Ben & Jerry’s.

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Unexpectedly Iconic Designs

Sometimes brands just don’t understand the power of their own designs. Bad design can result in catastrophic failure for even the most successful and well-established companies, as seen with Tropicana’s disastrous attempt at a redesign in 2009. The packaging was so reviled that it caused sales to plummet by 20% over a two-month period, costing the juice company $30 million in lost transactions and a huge undisclosed sum in costs associated with reverting back to the old design.tropicana

On the other hand, good design has the power to multiply profits several times over – as was the case with Botanical Bakery, whose 2010 redesign tripled sales in a single year. This is the dream of most brands, and, usually, companies will invest heavy amounts of time and money to make sure that such a project is strategically sound. In a few cases, however, brands have taken risks by choosing designs that they did not feel especially strongly about, only to see huge rewards for their gamble. Below are three examples of designs with low expectations that went on to become iconic, generating untold profits and consumer loyalty for the brands attached to them.

 

The “Jazz” Solo Cup

In 1991, the Sweetheart Cup Company selected a design by employee Gina Ekiss in an internal contest to be featured on cups and plates. Gina received no bonus, awards, or recognition for her contribution, which was called “jazz”. The design – featuring a teal blue zig-zag under a thin purple zig-zag – went on to become the company’s all-time bestseller, and is now a pattern considered to be emblematic of the nineties. Gina’s identity (and status as an unsung hero) was only discovered in 2015 after someone on Reddit with the username “mcglaven” started a thread dedicated to tracking down the designer. Today, the design has a cult following that has inspired everything from apparel lines to social media pages.

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La Croix’s Groovy Look

When National Beverage sought to differentiate their seltzer drink La Croix from competitors, they hired Alchemy Brand Group to redesign the can. Of all of the options presented, National Beverage liked the current “Picasso-esque” design the least. However, it tested so incredibly well with consumers that they decided to take a chance with it, and the distinctive design is credited in part with La Croix’s massive success today.

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The Anthora Cup

Leslie Buck – born Laszlo Bück  — immigrated to America after World War II, after having survived both Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After starting a paper cup manufacturing company with his brother (who was also a Holocaust survivor), he moved to a startup called Sherri Cup in the 1960s. It was there that he designed a hot cup in the colors of the Greek flag, aimed at the predominantly Greek diner owners of New York City. Buck did not receive any royalties from his design, but the company sold hundreds of millions of what is now considered to be an extremely recognizable piece of New York iconography.

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Super Bowl Branding

Everybody knows that the real star of the Super Bowl has nothing to do with football – it’s all about the commercials. Every year, millions of people tune in just to see what brands have come up with, and Super Bowl LI is expected to be no different. It’s a real opportunity for brands to go all-out, getting as creative as the networks and their wallets will allow. Snickers, for instance, is going to air the game’s first-ever live commercial, featuring Adam Driver (of Star Wars and Girls) as some kind of cowboy hero. That’s not the only first for this year, either – Yellow Tail is going to be the first wine brand to air a Super Bowl ad in four decades, and both Wendy’s and Tiffany’s are finally putting out their first game day commercials.addriverSometimes, a brand can make as big of a statement by staying off-screen as they would by running an ad. Kraft Heinz has been getting a lot of buzz lately for their public decision to not produce a Super Bowl ad, and instead use those millions of unspent dollars to give employees the day after the game off. And Tostitos’ ingenious chip bag design – which doubles as a breathalyzer to determine when partygoers have had too much to drive home, and can even call an Uber for them using smartphone-enabled technology – is a great example of a brand making the packaging an integral part of the consumer experience. With social engagement and technology being where it is today, brands have lots of options for showing off innovation.tostitosWith the spotlight on sponsoring companies, it can be easy to forget what an undertaking it is to brand the Super Bowl itself as a national event. The process for designing the brand identity of a Super Bowl game begins as far as two years in advance. In fact, the identity and graphic design guide for the 2018 game is going to launch on February 6th, the day after Super Bowl LI.

The design of nearly everything tied to this year’s game, including banners, apparel, advertisements, etc., all use deep reds. This was chosen because it draws from the NFL’s official logo (helping create cohesiveness between the event and the organizers) and also because the designers felt that it best captures the spirit of energy and excitement that the league is trying to promote. Super Bowl LI is also featuring more colors in its designs than in years past, namely turquoise and yellow, as they are attempting to connect with a younger audience.supbowlThe Super Bowl is like Oscars season for those in branding. It is the moment to show off months or years of hard work and planning, and the competition is always fierce. With millions of expectant eyes watching, we will have to wait and see whether or not this year delivers. If these pre-game releases – like what we’ve gotten from Tostitos and Snickers – are any indication of what is to come, then Sunday is going to be one of the most exciting Super Bowls to date.

The Branding of Lab Grown Meat

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 1.52.17 PMLaboratory-grown meat is projected to hit grocery store shelves within the next few years, and the benefits are easy to understand. Meat that has been grown in a petri dish requires no animal slaughter, produces little waste, and results in the emission of 90% less greenhouse gases, among other environmental bonuses. The risk of contamination or undetected bacterial exposure is dramatically reduced, and, purportedly, it tastes basically the same as “real” meat.

There is one major problem that plagues researchers and developers, however – how to get people to actually eat it.

People are just naturally squeamish about eating meat that did not come from an animal, although it is technically generated from livestock cells. This is an especially stressful time for lab-grown meat to enter the market; all packaged food trends point towards more “natural” ingredients (real sugars, no chemical additives or antibiotics, etc.), a movement that is unlikely to relax any time soon. If General Mills can’t even get parents to buy cereal that has red #40 dye, how will manufacturers get them to buy chicken nuggets that were never part of a chicken?Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 4.48.11 PMThe answer, of course, is branding. The lab-grown meat industry is very aware of public perception, and, as a result, has invented a new term that consumers may find easier to stomach: “clean meat”.

For example, Clara Foods, which produces chicken-less egg whites from genetically modified yeast, does not call its product “artificial” egg whites – instead, they use the much nicer-sounding “clean egg whites”. Technically accurate words like “fermented” and “cultured” probably will not be featured the branding of these types of goods, and anything too sci-fi or futuristic is unlikely to make a positive impression on potential buyers. “Clean meat” plays to a lot of traits that consumers are already looking for, as the name seems to allude to health and physical wellness, as well as environmental friendliness.Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 1.51.10 PMThe “clean meat” angle is a controversial one – for starters, companies that work with and rely on livestock resent the implication that animal meat is somehow unclean, and claim that there is no reason why both animal agriculture and “cellular” agriculture cannot both be part of the plan to move to more sustainable meat consumption practices. Some have pointed out that past pushes for sterile, manufactured foods have lead to unforeseen health consequences, which the “clean meat” label fails to suggest. An example that has been cited is the movement for factory-produced enriched white bread in the early twentieth century, which is probably at least partially responsible for today’s mass gluten intolerance problem.  Critics are concerned that an overstatement of the benefits of “clean meat” could lead to reliance on a product whose long-term effects cannot be fully understood until after it has been on the market for years, and that this new name goes too far in the opposite direction of public suspicion.

Again, consumers have a few years to get used to the idea of lab-grown meat before it will be available in stores. We will just have to wait and see whether or not a fancy rebranding effort will be what is necessary to get customers to bite, and if the environmental impact will be enough to see a change of public opinion.

The History of Holiday Flavors

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 10.11.54 AMThere’s no way around it — 2016 has been a strange year.

Olympic athletes swam in questionable green pools. Clowns terrorized the nation for over a month. Pringles has three different dessert-flavored chips out at once… Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 9.47.43 AM

Photo from Pringles’ official twitter

Pecan Pie, Sugar Cookie, and Salted Caramel. Count ‘em, that’s three sweet Pringles for the holiday season – limited edition, of course, as are most gimmicky flavored snacks.

Now that we are about midway through the season in which everything from chips to ChapStick has to have some pumpkin spice/gingerbread/peppermint variation, we can’t help but wonder…how did we get to this point?

Oreos are probably the treat best associated with limited edition flavors. After all, their experiments in novelty cookies are not just bound by holidays – they play the game all year long, with nearly ten new selections produced in 2016 alone (including Swedish Fish and Lemon Twist). Consumers could first buy a limited edition Oreo in 1985, when the company debuted the decidedly mild and normal Mint Crème.

Since then, it has been the Wild West in the snack flavoring world. Most companies seem to stick to the holiday season for major shakeups, and all traditional taste conventions go flying out the window the minute the temperature starts dropping. It isn’t just savory foods going sweet – in 1994, Jones Soda put out Turkey and Gravy cola (imagine the possibilities, Pringles!), and it was only a few years ago that Accoutrements put out a Thanksgiving gumball pack that included turkey-flavored gumballs.

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Photo from Amazon

Of course, the most pervasive and beloved flavor of the season is pumpkin spice. The first reference to pumpkin spice is believed to have come from the 1796 cookbook American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, and the recipe called for molasses, allspice and ginger. McCormick’s and similar brands shortened the name of their spice blend from “pumpkin pie spice” to just “pumpkin spice” as early as the 1960s, after the blend had been on the market for a decade. Trader Joe’s began carrying seasonal pumpkin goods in the mid-90’s, and as the flavor continues to get more and more popular, their selection grows – there will be ten more pumpkin-themed items for sale this year than last year. Pop-Tarts, cream cheese, vodka, cereal, bagels, coffee creamer, popcorn, even salsa and hummus – all can be found in a pumpkin spice variety this fall.

Starbucks is largely responsible for the phenomenon, as their pumpkin spice latte, which has been around for thirteen years, is by far their most popular seasonal item. They have sold over two hundred million “PSLs” since the drink debuted, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the company. Social media has played a huge role in this, so much so that the drink has its own separate verified Twitter account: @TheRealPSL.

This is not to say that seasonal flavors are all about the traditional – at the height of the cupcake craze of the early 2010s, Target released a popular “holiday milk” flavored like chocolate red velvet. So there is definitely room for brands to incorporate trends into their seasonal flavor selections, and we should expect to see more creativity in the coming years. After all, 1796-2016 is a long reign for pumpkin spice. If Pringles has given us any indication, future tastes can be unexpected.