Starbucks Ditches Bugs as Dye in Drinks

Back in March, news outlets stirred up a storm when they reported on an unusual ingredient creeping in Starbucks’ strawberry drinks: insects.

Now, about a month later, Starbucks is announcing that it’s scrapping the bugs from its drinks, replacing the dye-producing critters with lycopene, a tomato extract, instead.

“We fell short of your expectations,” said Starbucks president Cliff Burrows in an online statement. “We are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible.”

The switch from bug-based to tomato-based dye is slated to happen by June. It was actually only January that the insects were originally added to Starbucks fare, meant as an alternative to artificial coloring.

The move comes in response to a wave of public outrage, particularly from vegan and consumer advocate groups, that rose when Starbucks admitted to using Dactylopius coccus, tiny white insects that produce a red pigment, cochineal, when ground up. The bugs have proven perfect for keeping pretty-in-pink products, such as strawberry smoothies and fraps, red velvet whoopee pies, birthday cake pop, and frosted mini-donuts, “all-natural.”

Cochineal has been used for centuries, especially in paints, makeup, and yes, food too.

Yet while Starbucks touted the insect-based dye’s status as a “safe product that poses no health risk,” the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begged to differ, requiring goods containing cochineal to be labeled accordingly. The concern stems from the potential side effects of consuming the dye, including asthma attacks and severe allergic reactions for some.

But also playing a part in the anti-insect uproar was the lack of information given to customers, particularly vegans, who felt tricked into consuming animal products. As it turned out, a dairy-free frap wasn’t safe territory after all.

With Starbucks’ latest change, however, fury is fading into forgiveness.

“Through this move, Starbucks has shown that it cares about the opinions of its consumers,” said blogger Daelyn Fortney of, who broke the bug story in the first place.

Animal rights’ organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also praised the company’s move.

Yet other consumers are waiting until June to celebrate, and for now, hold the Starbucks scandal as a reminder that with purchased food, you can never be too careful.

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