Starbucks to phase out cochineal extract

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Bowing to customer pressure, Starbucks Corp. on Thursday announced it will transition away from using cochineal extract, a colorant made from the crushed bodies of dried bugs, in several beverages and food items by the end of June.

The ingredient came under attack in March after the vegan and vegetarian website thisdishisvegetarian.com reported that Starbucks was using cochineal extract, which is sometimes listed among ingredients as “carmine” in its pink-color offerings. Items made with the extract include the strawberries and crème Frappuccino, strawberry smoothie, raspberry swirl cake, birthday cake pops, mini donuts with pink icing and red velvet whoopee pies.

The extract has been used in the food industry for years, and Starbucks initially began using it in an attempt to eliminate artificial ingredients. However, the public backlash forced the Seattle-based coffee company to reformulate, said Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks’ Americas division, in a blog posting.

“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,” Burrows wrote. “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 said the strawberry Frappuccino and smoothie will be reformulated to use lycopene, a natural tomato-based extract. He added that the company will transition away from the use of cochineal extract in the four additional food items.

“This transition will occur over time as we finalize revisions and manage production,” Burrows wrote. “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.”

A spokeswoman for the company clarified that the chain has not yet decided the replacement strategy for the four food items. The company may switch to using white icing on the donuts, for example, or phase out the red velvet whoopee pie flavor altogether, she said. Regardless, cochineal extract will no longer be used.

Comments responding to the blog post Thursday were largely positive. Many said they are allergic to products with cochineal extract and looked forward to trying the drinks. Others, however, said they were allergic to tomato products. And many questioned why the menu items could not be colored with actual strawberries or an extract from the fruit.

Starbucks Corp. at the end of its first quarter had 17,244 locations worldwide, including 12,494 in the Americas region that includes the U.S., Canada and Latin America.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter @livetodineout