Starbucks Removes Dairy-Free Milk Surcharge at 1,000 Locations
Starbucks just announced that it will finally remove the upcharge for its vegan milk substitutes at locations across the United Kingdom beginning January 5. The decision closely follows the press release prank conducted by Switch4Good that told news outlets everywhere that the company decided to move the upcharge to dairy-based milk instead. Now, the company is actually dropping the plant-based milk charge from 1,020 locations, making its plant-based milk options more accessible to customers within the UK.
The company currently offers five dairy-free milk options including oat, soy, coconut, almond, and the exclusive Starbucks Original Nut Blend – plant-based milk containing light rice milk, cashews, and hazelnuts with added vitamins B12, B2, D2, and E. While only in the UK, the decision to drop the vegan milk surcharge is a monumental move for the company. Following years of petitions and calls to action, Starbucks will finally offer plant-based beverages with no extra cost.
"With customization at Starbucks core, this latest menu change will provide increased personalization options and make it even easier for customers to choose whichever dairy alternative or milk they prefer, all year round," the company said in a press release.
Alongside its decision to drop the surcharge, Starbucks will be bulking up its vegan winter menu across the UK. The company announced that it will be adding three fresh oat milk lattes including Honey & Hazelnut (Not Vegan), Dark Cacoa & Orange, and Strawberry & Vanilla. The new lattes will blend together Oatly’s oat milk and the Starbucks’ signature Blonde Roast Expresso. The new selection will fall under the company’s “Oat Platform” meant to promote and expand the oat milk beverage section.
“The platform will see the addition of new dairy alternative beverages for future seasons as part of our ongoing work to expand our plant-based menu,” Starbucks said in a statement.
While Starbucks has not clarified any direct inspiration, the company’s announcement occurs soon after Switch4Good’s campaign that called out the brand’s plant-based surcharge. The campaign – created by former Olympian Dotsie Bausch’s Switch4Good and the activist duo The Yes Men – set out to hold Starbucks accountable for its problematic upcharge. The fake press release contained an explanation that Starbuck would drop the upcharge to stop contributing to dietary racism as heavy percentages of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities cannot consume lactose.
Recently, several organizations and activists have placed diet at the forefront of conversations discussing racism, institutional discrimination, and nutritional deficits. For years, Starbucks has felt pressure from activists claiming the upcharge is a barrier to sustainable and nutritional progress.
Recently, documentarians Keegan Kuhn and John Lewis premiered their new film, They’re Trying to Kill Us, which explored the deep connection between diet and racial discrimination. The film examines how racism manipulates the food industries across the United States to create nutritional faults in communities of color. With the help of Billie Eilish and Chris Paul, the documentary places pressure on food industries and companies to address discrimination nationwide.
“The film opened my eyes to the larger underlying issue and disparities in the food system, and most people don’t realize it has been happening for decades,” Paul said. “The conversations and dialogue are both thought-provoking and education in so many areas.”
Starbucks’ decision to change the milk upcharge also coincides with the rising demand for dairy-free milk options. The company has experienced an uptick in sales over recent years, minimizing the need for the marginal upcharge as the dairy-free milk industry becomes larger, meeting price parity with the dairy-based milk market. The plant-based dairy industry is predicted to reach $32 billion by 2031, according to Fact.MR. Starbucks will likely benefit from making its plant-based milk options more accessible to a rapidly growing vegan and health-conscious consumer base.
Beyond the plant-based milk selection, Starbucks is also working on its vegan food selection. The company has spent recent years developing a variety of plant-based food options, and now it will begin its expansion in the UK. The company will release the Tu’NAH Sandwich – a vegan tuna sandwich made from The Vegetarian Butcher’s plant-based tuna, complete with red onion, arugula, cucumber, and vegan mayo. For baked goods, Starbucks also announced three plant-based treats including the Carrot Cake, Chocolate & Caramel Muffin, and Pecan & Caramel Brownie.
The new winter menu will accompany recent menu development such as the signature vegan whipped cream and the company’s sandwiches made with Beyond Meat. For now, the company has only revealed minimal US-based vegan changes, however, the company’s new measures give consumers a reason to anticipate more plant-based Starbucks worldwide.