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.
Over the last several months, Starbucks has quietly reformulated the ingredients in the Pumpkin Spice Latte and published the new list of ingredients on their blog today.
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)
Whipped Cream: (Light Whipping Cream [Cream (Monsanto Milk?!), Mono and Diglycerides, Carrageenan])
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.
119 responses to “You’ll Never Guess What Starbucks Just Announced! (Hint: You Made This Happen!)”
When i walk into a store or food serving facility, i’d like to see an FBA seal of approval. FBA –> Food Babe Approved! Go Food Babe Go! We are standing behind you! (How about a nice FBA seal enlarged with a magnifying glass?) When i see the FBA seal, i don’t need to read the ingredients 🙂
Great Job! I still don’t understand how carmel coloring & “natural flavoring” can be in organic products. I read all labels & have to tell my boys, sorry-there are “bad ingredients in that, we cannot buy it.
I still doubt very much that I will ever be purchasing any Latte from them. They taste too fake phony and unreal.
It’s nice to have these wins and I’m super happy they’re happening, but the focus needs to be on our FDA. How about the fact that they continually allow these things like “caramel coloring” when no other country does. It’s not the company saying let’s only use this in America. It’s the food regulatory boards in other countries not allowing this junk in their food.
I think the food babe is doing a great job of going around the FDA one company at a time..if that is what it takes to get good food in this country well so be it..I am behind you Vani 100%. There is too much money governing our country today and the greed isn’t going to stop until the public gets involved to put the pressure on all of these food groups out there. Keep up the good work and I will continue to sign all of your petitions. Cheryl
Hey luv what you are doing, people need to be more aware of the nasties hidden in our foods and drink. Another Bad one I keep seeing which is natural but really nasty is carrageenan!!!! Would love to see this ingredient gone too! Regards Ky*
I stopped going to Starbucks quite a few years ago. The better educated I get on what’s really going into “food” the less I am willing to eat or drink at any chain store. For coffee, I’m all organic. There are a few organic coffee shops here in my town, and of course, I can always make my own at home.
Also, I noticed that Carrageenan in is the Starbucks recipe you listed above. I avoid that entirely, and sadly, it’s found in many so called healthy drinks!
Thanks for helping us stay healthy. I fear for America’s health – it’s declining rapidly. When I was young, girls weren’t overweight. Now it’s rare to find a young kid that is not!
Great job, Food Babe!
Thank you so much for a your hard work. I stand behind your work and dedication you are in inspiration to us all.
I’m confused as to why a pumpkin spice drink would ever include pumpkin. I’ve never had one due to the fact that I don’t drink caffeinated milk shakes, but I assumed that it was using pumpkin pie spices.
How exciting to see change occur because of social demand and pressure! You know what I’d love to see now? I’d love to see Starbucks respond to pressure to purchase Fair Trade certified coffee. Starbucks claims to have a program which assure sustainability and fair wages, but Starbucks has plenty of money to be able to purchases CERTIFIED fair trade coffee, to ensure the fair treatment of workers around the world. Come on food babe, work your influence! 🙂
Well thanks a whole lot for your stupid blog last year! The new recipe sucks!! I miss my artificial Carmel color!! If you don’t like it, don’t drink it! Now you’ve ruined it for the masses that were perfectly fine with pickling our insides. We all have our vices. I’m heartbroken
mr. internet troll, i have had no problems with organic food. #FoodBabeArmy
P.S. Fruit and Veggie coloring is WAY better than caramel coloring IV.
Can you please get them to make their coconut milk healthier?! 🙂
Was anyone stupid enough to think there would be pumpkin in a coffee drink? It says “pumpkin spice” which means the spice mix that goes into pumpkin pie. It was never intended to imply there was actually pumpkin in a freaking coffee drink. That’s like assuming there are real raspberries in their raspberry syrup.
They actually use heavy whipping cream and vanilla syrup for the whipped cream. That’s it. But as for their changes, any difference is something! At least they’re listening and making changes. Even if you don’t drink their lattes, hopefully it will help (a little) those who do drink a PSL latte (or more) a day! Even though they probably don’t care much about what goes into their bodies anyway…