Almost exactly one year ago, I published a simple blog post without realizing how much of a wave of change that it would create. That post, “You’ll Never Guess What’s In A Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (Hint: You Won’t Be Happy)” was my second investigation into Starbucks, which exposed their lack of transparency when it comes to the ingredients in their drinks. It took repeated requests and determination, but I was finally able to obtain the complete list of ingredients in their most popular seasonal drink. Just like many of their other drinks at the time, I found that the “Pumpkin Spice Latte” contained Class IV caramel color, no real pumpkin, natural and artificial flavors, and a huge dose of sugar. This blog post went absolutely viral with over 10 million views in 2014! Within days, major news outlets picked up the story.
All of this attention was because of YOU – the Food Babe Army!
And it made a difference.
Starbucks was definitely feeling the pressure from all of the media attention but your voice helped the most! At the time, Starbucks gave reporters somewhat cryptic responses indicating that they would phase out caramel color and would list ingredients online – but they didn’t give any details or a timeline.
Since then, I have been keeping in constant contact with Starbucks – emailing them nearly every month and asking them for updates on their progress. Considering that they don’t use caramel coloring in their drinks overseas, it should be a pretty quick change, right? While the process has been slow, we are getting what we asked for.
What are the two main things that Starbucks changed?
1. The caramel coloring has been removed, which was in their sauce and whipped cream. Their sauce is now colored with “fruit and vegetable juice”, and although I have no idea why this coloring is necessary at all – the caramel coloring is gone! This is important because caramel color is created in a laboratory by reacting corn sugar with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperature, which produces the byproduct 4-Mel. A U.S government funded study found that feeding mice caramel coloring IV (which contained 4-Mel) increased their risk of developing lung cancer and leukemia, at every dosage level. And the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies 4-Mel as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
2. Real pumpkin has been added to their sauce. Say what? 🙂 This is kinda funny to me, because pointing out that they didn’t use real pumpkin in their sauce wasn’t one of my big concerns, but it was something that the media really clung to (and I’ve been criticized quite a bit for for writing about it). I was just trying to bring awareness to the fact that instead of using real food ingredients, many companies use flavors, thickeners, and other synthetic food additives instead – and that was exactly what Starbucks was doing. They have now added real pumpkin to their sauce, but I still see that they’re using natural flavors (which are proprietary chemicals that make processed food taste better than it should).
New list of ingredients in a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (I still won’t be consuming it!):
Milk (aka Monsanto Milk?!)
Pumpkin Spice Flavored Sauce: (Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk (Monsanto Milk?!), Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% or Less of Fruit and Vegetable Juice for Color, Natural Flavors, Annatto (Color), Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Salt)
Starbucks Vanilla Syrup: (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Citric Acid)
Pumpkin Spice Topping: (Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove)
This news hit earlier today, with Entrepreneur reporting:
“Last August, food blogger Vani Hari attacked Starbucks for including Caramel Color Level IV, artificial flavors and preservatives in the Pumpkin Spice Latte, while failing to include any real pumpkin. At the time, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the coffee chain was in an open dialogue with Hari and actively looking at phasing caramel coloring out over time. While Hari criticized Starbucks last year for failing to provide a timeline for making the changes, it looks like the company took criticism to heart”.
And many more articles reported this story today:
- “Starbucks Pulls Artificial Coloring From Pumpkin Spice Latte” – Bloomberg Business
- “Popular Starbucks, Panera Pumpkin Spice Lattes to change” – CNBC
- “Starbucks adds pumpkin to pumpkin spice latte” – USA Today
- “Pumpkin spice latte tweaks: Starbucks adds pumpkin” – Star Tribune
- “Starbucks, Panera Tweak Pumpkin Spice Latte Formulas” – ABC News
- “Starbucks Adds New Ingredient to Pumpkin Spice Latte: Pumpkin” – The Atlantic
- “Starbucks’s Pumpkin Spice Latte now has pumpkin after shaming by the ‘Food Babe” – The Washington Post
- “Food Babe” blogger’s call answered by Starbucks” – CBS News
This afternoon, I received an email from Starbucks confirming new details.
My contact at Starbucks responded to me with written confirmation that they plan to put all product ingredients online in the beginning of 2016! I truly believe that this is something they should have done a long time ago – back when I first wrote about them in 2012 – and it shouldn’t take them much time to implement. We just need to keep them on their toes and make sure that they follow through with this promise!
This is a huge win for the Food Babe Army – and we should all be proud.
We have been demanding that food companies become transparent about what they are putting into our food and to use safe ingredients – and they are listening! We know what is happening to our food supply and we’ve had enough. We know that food additives like caramel color do nothing to improve our health, and are just used to improve the bottom line of the food companies. When a major corporation like Starbucks removes unnecessary food additives from their food (as we have seen many times lately) other companies will follow. I can’t help but wonder, is this the beginning of the end for caramel coloring? I really hope so.
It’s a crazy ride that we’re on, and it’s not letting up any time soon.
Thank you for standing by me and for your determination to improve our food supply. I know that it is taking time and these changes can’t be made overnight, but it’s happening. Keep sharing and keep spreading the word – together we are changing the food system.
It’s really happening! I love you so much.