The retailer said Thursday its U.S. stores will phase out by June use of a red dye derived from cochineal insects, a tropical bug found in Mexico and South America. The colorant will be replaced with lycopene, a tomato extract, the Seattle-based company said in a statement on its Web site.
More than 6,500 people signed a Change.org petition asking Starbucks to stop using the insects because it isn’t vegan and kosher, and consumers “don’t want crushed bugs in their designer drinks.” The extract had been used in the company’s Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, raspberry swirl cake, birthday cake pop, mini donut with pink icing and red velvet whoopee pie, according to the statement.
“We’ve learned that we fell short of your expectations by using natural cochineal extract as a colorant,” Cliff Burrows, the Starbucks president for the U.S. and the Americas, said in the statement. “As our customers you expect and deserve better – and we promise to do better.”
While the initial switch is for domestic products, the company is “evaluating markets outside the U.S. right now, but no definitive decision has been made yet,” Jim Olson, a spokesman for Starbucks, said in a telephone interview.
There is no safety or quality issue with the extract, which is a widely used ingredient approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Olson said. Starbucks made the decision to stop using the coloring because the company “heard from a fair number of customers that this particular ingredient wasn’t exceeding their expectations,” he said.
Change.org, a social action Web site that lets people start online petition drives for various causes, said in a statement today that each signature on the Starbucks petition triggered an email directly to the company’s headquarters.