The NEW Starbucks Red Dye: Tomatoes Instead of Bugs

And what does this have to do with pink slime?

Red dye in Lycopene (tomato)

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In one of the quickest turnarounds we’ve seen in the food industry, Starbucks has just announced that it will be removing the red bug coloring from its Strawberry Frappucino and other red foods. A few weeks ago, a vegan Starbucks barista shared his discovery of carmine with vegetarian blogs, and the news went viral. Heck, even our post about it (with a close up picture of the red bugs) went viral.

Image by University of Turin, Italy

According to a the company “Starbucks will reformulate the following products to replace the cochineal extract with lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract:

  • Beverages:  Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino® blended beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie
  • Pastries:  Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie

Here is a letter to consumers from Starbucks President Cliff Burrows:

Dear Customers,

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.

A few thoughts on how Starbuck handled this:

1. Transparency trumps all. Starbucks had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. It was open with its customers about the coloring from day one.

2. Quick response. When it realized its customers did not want the bug derived coloring, Starbucks quickly turned around and offered something else.

3. Luxury affords flexibility. When you sell coffee for five bucks, your margins enable you to turn on a dime.

Do you think the pink slime scandal would have turned out differently had the manufacturer (BPI) been more forthcoming with its disclosures?

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  • Revolution44

    If u think starbuckers had nothing to be ashamed of by using red bugs as dye in their pastries then this’ll be the last time i visit this blog. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/paula.jakobs Paula Jakobs

    A big difference here is that starbucks is not the manufacturer of the red dye so they don’t have much to lose by switching to something else (other than perhaps a few pennies per product). BPI has their entire business to lose.

  • http://twitter.com/Mike_Kunkle Mike Kunkle

    While not a big fan of bugs, aren’t they natural, and consumed in some cultures as food? I completely agree with the 3 points you make and laud SB for their effective handling of “the situation,” but I think I’m missing why it was a situation to begin with? Other than perhaps the 1 in 10,000 who has a reaction and the proper labeling.

  • http://twitter.com/Mike_Kunkle Mike Kunkle

    While not a big fan of bugs, aren’t they natural, and consumed in some cultures as food? I completely agree with the 3 points you make and laud SB for their effective handling of “the situation,” but I think I’m missing why it was a situation to begin with? Other than perhaps the 1 in 10,000 who has a reaction and the proper labeling.

  • http://twitter.com/Mike_Kunkle Mike Kunkle

    While not a big fan of bugs, aren’t they natural, and consumed in some cultures as food? I completely agree with the 3 points you make and laud SB for their effective handling of “the situation,” but I think I’m missing why it was a situation to begin with? Other than perhaps the 1 in 10,000 who has a reaction and the proper labeling.

    • Sarbetrog

      Well, to me, it seems unneccesary to dye it in the first place but I think a lot of vegans had a problem with it for obvious reasons.
      I’m definitely an omnivore but I’d like my strawberry frap to be vegetarian. Can you imagine the horror for those who don’t eat animal products as they recounted all the times they drank/ate crushed up bugs? 

  • Pjsmith993

    I’m just glad they are not using petrolrum based dies!

  • Mrw_seattle

    What if they actually used STRAWBERRIES to color their strawberry frappaccionos?

  • http://twitter.com/QuipsTravails Michele Hays

    Yes, I’d have had less of a problem with BPI’s product if they’d been upfront about it from the beginning.  Would I buy it if I knew it was there?  Not sure.

  • No_longer_Starbucks

    I agree with Mrw_seattle.  Is it too much to expect STRAWBERRIES in the product if it is called a “strawberry frappuccino?”  When will consumers finally say “ENOUGH” and demand a product other than one filled with imitation-this, pseudo-that, and substitutions?  I’m really disappointed with Starbucks, and frankly, this has ruined my trust in them.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      strawberries are not red enough when mashed into a shake or drink. the color is pale pink compared to the rich red color that tempts us to buy stuff…

      • No_longer_Starbucks

        As an enlightened consumer (which I’d assume most upscale Starbucks would also be), I would be much more willing to consume a delicious REAL strawberry frappuccino made with real strawberries and a slightly less pink/red color.  I still stress there must be a point in which the public revolts against the artificial and pretend food these companies are literally trying to shove down our throats.  I’m compelled to post here on your fine blog, because I’ve reached my crap saturation point from those companies.  I applaud Fooducate for your work!

  • Kricket Vk

    I’m not very happy with all this….I have a niece who drank it a lot and I even gave it once to my son and daughter as a special treat but knowing the bugs were present really disgusts me and I can’t say I’ll ever go there again! They lied about the ingredients in the first place….I am thinking…….false advertising and infringing on beliefs…..possible lawsuit?!

  • Hnhughes79

    At least they don’t use castoreum!

  • Ery

    good thing cockroaches aren’t red

  • Carol

    I can (sort of) understand the gross-out factor, but if you eat anything made in the real world, there will be bugs, bacteria, etc. in it… you just can’t see them (usually). It is impossible to avoid things falling into food/beverages via the production process and things in the air, water, soil ending up in your food. Even (especially) farmers market veggies (and your own backyard produce) will contain living things (non-plant material) — often too small to see or completely rinse off. Most restaurants use frozen strawberries (for reasons of cost, year-round availability, ease of storage, more sanitary than fresh — which need to be cleaned of those pesky live organisms)… but the frozen ones don’t have as bright of a color. People are used to the brighter, “fresh-looking” colors and tend to turn noses up at the true color of frozen fruit, so the consumer  needs a reality check as well, in terms of their expectations. Or simply make your own at home.

  • Anonymous

    Just wanted to remind everyone that lycopene is GOOD FOR YOU. No need to freak out – it’s a naturally occurring phytochemical that is most available in tomato paste!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisalemerybrigham Lisa Lemery Brigham

    Mrw_Seattle-that is EXACTLY what I said!  What a novel idea…

  • http://rackoflam.blogspot.com/ Lamchop

    Omg that is pretty disgusting.  I’m so glad that I’ve never had those drinks at Starbucks before

  • Blah

    you do know that STRAWBERRIES oxidize rather quickly and will turn BROWN. Do you want a brown strawberry frappuccino? Didnt think so, moron.

  • Heather

    I think a lot of people are fussing over this too much. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly dislike all bugs (even butterflies), but you have to keep in mind that they are using such a small amount. It is not as if they are selling bug-slushies. It’s much healthier than using petroleum based dyes. Moreover, we all end up eating bugs in our sleep anyway.

    • k78

      The strawberry banana smoothie actually tasted better before they made the change in ingredients. I hate bugs with a passion but, I can’t lie about the fact that it really did taste better with them. Even my daughter agrees. She bought them all the time and now won’t buy any since the change because they don’t taste right…

  • non-foodie

    Check your lipsticks.