Stung by bug controversy, Starbucks switches ingredients

Apr 19, 2012

In response to the hubbub started by Change.org, Starbucks has announced today that it will stop using the bug extract cochineal as a colorant in four food and two beverage offerings in the United States, according to its Website.

Cliff Burrows, president of  Starbucks U.S., wrote today:

“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).”

“Cochineal extract is a red dye made out of dried female cochineal insects. Reports indicate it takes 70,000 cochineal to produce 1 pound of the red dye. Known to cause a rare, but severe allergic reactions in some individuals, the FDA requires manufacturers to list the “cochineal” in the ingredient’s list,” reported Change.org.

NPR's The Salt adds this:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' David Byer, who pushed for the switch, praised Starbucks' announcement. "It will soon be Starbucks Vegan Strawberry Frapps all 'round at PETA headquarters in celebration," he says.

While the red-dyed products likely make up a small portion of the coffee chain's business — the company doesn't publicly break out product-by-product sales, says a Starbucks' spokesman — in the food world, it's all about optics.

"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," Burrows writes.

Despite the ick factor, cochneal extract is FDA approved and widely seen as a more natural alternative to, say, petroleum-based Red Dye #40 - an argument many pointed out in the comments on our previous post.