The NEW Starbucks Red Dye: Tomatoes Instead of Bugs

I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz about Starbucks serving up bugs in their beverages? I kid you not coffee drinkers. Because of the highly-publicized customer response, Starbucks changed their ingredients. Apparently it really “bugged” their customers (sorry about the bad pun, I couldn’t help that one). Not only is Starbucks a home-grown company (whoop whoop, Seattle!),  I admire Howard Shultz (read why in this great Fortune magazine article about him) and his latest venture: Create Jobs for USA. In this case, I respect how Starbucks listened to customers and changed the way they were doing things in a quick and efficient manner, showing that they really do care about the ‘little guys’. Hemi, over at Fooducate Blog, shared Starbuck’s response to the controversy. They were kind enough to let us share the blog post with our readers. I’m especially paying close attention to how Starbucks put the customers first and how that can apply to my business (and hopefully yours!). Thanks, Hemi! See original blog post here. ~Anne-Marie

In one of the quickest turnarounds we’ve seen in the food industry, Starbucks has just announced that it will be removing the red bug coloring from its Strawberry Frappucino and other red foods. A few weeks ago, a vegan Starbucks barista shared his discovery of carmine with vegetarian blogs, and the news went viral. Heck, even our post about it (with a close up picture of the red bugs) went viral.

Image by University of Turin, Italy

According to a the company “Starbucks will reformulate the following products to replace the cochineal extract with lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract:

Beverages: Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie
Pastries: Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie
Here is the letter to consumers from Starbucks President Cliff Burrows:

Dear Customers,

As I first shared on March 29, we’ve learned that we fell short of your expectations by using natural cochineal extract as a colorant in four food and two beverage offerings in the United States. Our commitment to you, our customers, is to serve the highest quality products available. As our customers you expect and deserve better – and we promise to do better.

After a thorough, yet fastidious, evaluation, I am pleased to report that we are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible. Our expectation is to be fully transitioned to lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract, in the strawberry sauce (base) used in our Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie. Likewise, we are transitioning away from the use of cochineal extract in our food offerings which currently contain it (Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie).

This transition will occur over time as we finalize revisions and manage production. Our intention is to be fully transitioned from existing product inventories to revised food and beverage offerings near the end of June across the U.S.

We thank you for your continued feedback, support and comments, and we encourage you to continue to share your thoughts here as well.

A few thoughts on how Starbucks handled this:

1. Transparency trumps all. Starbucks had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. It was open with its customers about the coloring from day one.

2. Quick response. When it realized its customers did not want the bug derived coloring, Starbucks quickly turned around and offered something else.

3. Luxury affords flexibility. When you sell coffee for five bucks, your margins enable you to turn on a dime.

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  1. kristin g says

    what i find funny is where people draw the line. they may be all upset about bugs, that truly won’t hurt you or make you sick, but they are happy to take all the artificial chemicals and what not in just about everything else and make no peep about it. while i am not thrilled about eating red beetles, of all the gross things we put in our mouths and on our body, i would have to say this ranks low on my list. good for starbucks for changing for the customer to serve them well! impressed with that for sure.

    • says

      I was very impressed with the turn around and response of Starbucks in this matter. Sometimes in the world of big corporations it feels as if the ‘little guy’ doesn’t matter, but I think Starbucks did an amazing job in addressing the concerns of the customers and having complete transparency throughout the whole process!
      -Becky with Bramble Berry

    • Michelle says

      As a vegan it’s about not eating animals or animal by-products and yes bugs count as animals. Just like raspberry flavor coming from the anal glands of beavers. It’s called castoreum and falls into the category of things that can be labeled “natural flavor.” It might not hurt you but I sure don’t want to eat it.

  2. Kristin says

    I am already boycotting Starbucks since they discriminated against the one armed guy, but I wouldn’t have cared about bugs. If people only knew that food products are allowed to have up to so much bug parts and even mouse hair and pieces.the government actually have set standards of how much is acceptable.

  3. DRadig says

    Good point!! That would keep it natural!!! I know beet extract can also be used. Now you wonder if the flavor and everything else is fake also??

  4. Dori Martz says

    I am still a bit confused. These are strawberry products right? First colored with red bug juice and now colored with tomato products. So aren’t strawberries red? What can’t they be colored with strawberries?

    • says

      Strawberries don’t stay red once blended – at least, they don’t stay red long enough from a marketing/consumer standpoint! Thus, the need to ‘umph’ the color. You and I may be okay with red/brown strawberries but I’m betting the general population is probably not as excited about them.