Recently, Starbucks decided to use a new colorant for is pink drinks and glazing. Instead of using milk products and real strawberries, the coffee chain decide to use chochineal extracts that consist of crushed bugs from South America.
Cochineal extract is allowed by the FDA as a food colorant. Since it is cheaper to use, Starbucks used it to color its popular Frappuccino Strawberry and Strawberry Smoothies.
Vegans and vegetarians were not pleased when they found out that their soy milk Frappuccinos and Smoothies suddenly contained animal products. Customers in general were bugged by the idea that there were bugs in their Starbucks.
As usual, the power of social media was harnessed; sentiments were vented in online forums and in YouTube videos. The online petition on Change.org got almost 7,000 signatures.
Starbucks got the marketing message and announced that from now on, lycopene extracts (from ripe tomatoes) will be used. Cliff Burrows, the President of Starbucks U.S., apologized and posted the following blog post:
“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.”
Although Starbucks bugged its customers, it did excellent crisis management.