Strawbeetle Drinks: Controversy Around a Common Starbucks Ingredient

Target: Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks

Goal: Eliminate cochineal extract (dead beetles) from Starbucks specialty drinks by substituting this dying agent for a non-animal alternative.

Coffee lovers and fans of Starbuck’s “However-You-Want-It” Frappuccino may be surprised to find out that one favorite made-to-order drink contains an extra ingredient that they would not want.  News has recently surfaced that a key ingredient in the coffee chain’s Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino and strawberry smoothie contain cochineal extract as part of the drink’s red dye.  Cochineal extract, as it turns out, is derived from the dried up and ground cochineal beetles.

News spread quickly about the strawbeetle drink when a vegan Starbucks barista snapped a picture of the ingredients list for the strawberry sauce used in its specialty drinks and uploaded it to a vegetarian-centric website.  Clearly marked as cochineal extract, vegetarian and vegan groups are now expressing their distaste for the coffee maker and these drinks, in particular.

For the time being, Starbucks is standing behind their product.  In a statement, Starbucks stresses their objective in keeping artificial dyes and ingredients out of their drinks: “While the strawberry base isn’t a vegan product, it helps us move away from artificial dyes.” Further clarifying that the majority of “Starbuck’s ingredients can be combined to create a beverage free from animal-derived products; however, we are unable to guarantee this due to the potential cross-contamination with other animal-derived products in our retail locations.”

While the intent is admirable, the method leaves much to be desired.  For now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the extract safe, and it is not solely used in drinks—it has also been used in cosmetics and other dairy products.  But if the goal of the Starbucks brand was to eliminate artificial dyes from its drinks, there are plenty of other ways to do so that would not go against the values of vegetarians and vegans.


Dear Mr. Schultz,

Many Starbucks patrons were a little less than pleased when word came out that a key dying agent used in the chain’s popular drinks contained extract derived from dried up and ground cochineal beetles.  Besides it being an altogether unwelcome ingredient, cochineal extract is has been known to cause severe allergic reactions to some individuals, and even asthma for others.

Additionally, the Starbucks “However-You-Want-It” Frappuccino line, which aims to give its customers ample variety in drink selection, can no longer consider its strawberry drinks free of animal products.

While moving the company away from artificial ingredients in its drinks is an honorable move, there is more that can be done to improve the strawberry drinks.  Plenty of natural, animal-free, ingredients can be used to maintain a similar (and better) product, and I write to you to ask you to seek these changes.

Now that the word is spreading about this beetle controversy, the perfect situation has presented itself for your company to make adjustments to its ingredients list that would please a larger community of coffee drinkers.


[Your name will go here]

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One Comment

  1. I would never drink it.

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