Starbucks, Panera tweak pumpkin spice latte formulas

The pumpkin spice latte battle is heating up just in time for fall.

Starbucks and Panera are hyping reformulated versions of the popular drinks — which will include real pumpkin — in a fight to win over fans of the beverage in coming weeks.

Starbucks Corp. said Monday its version of the concoction this year will be made with real pumpkin and without caramel coloring. The change comes after blogger Vani Hari, known as the Food Babe, criticized Starbucks last year for the drink's ingredients and its lack of transparency around the issue.

Panera Bread Co., meanwhile, said its pumpkin latte this year will be made "entirely without artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup." Its version of the drink also has real pumpkin and will be sold in its stores starting Sept. 9. Starbucks has not yet said when its drink will be available.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has called the pumpkin spice latte the company's "most popular seasonal beverage ever." In late 2013, he said sales of the drink were as strong as ever "despite the proliferation of knockoffs and copycats." The company even has a Twitter account set up for the drink, which has more than 82,000 followers.

Standing outside a Starbucks in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, Melissa Lane said she isn't a big fan of the coffee company but that she would be more likely to buy one of the specialty drinks if they make the ingredients more natural.

"That sounds awesome," Lane said. "I prefer less ingredients and more natural stuff."

Not everybody was sold on the idea of pumpkin-flavored caffeine drinks.

Beth Alley, who was enjoying iced tea with a friend outside another Starbucks a few blocks away from Lane, said she's never had a pumpkin spice latte.

When asked what she thought of the idea of pumpkin flavors in caffeine drinks, she said, "I probably wouldn't have one anyway."

A range of food companies including General Mills, Subway, Hershey and Nestle have said in recent months that they're removing artificial ingredients from some or all products. Companies say the changes are a response to a demand for food made with ingredients people can recognize

Panera, which has said it would banish dozens of ingredients from its menu by the end of next year, plans to offer samples of its pumpkin latte on Tuesday in Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered. The sampling will be across the street from the first Starbucks location by Pike Place market, according to a Panera representative.


Associated Press writer Candice Choi in New York contributed to this report.