Update Regarding Cochineal Extract

 Dear Customers,

As a company, we always strive to exceed your expectations, and we take your feedback very seriously. Based on recent feedback, we learned that we fell short of these expectations by using cochineal extract. This commonly used ingredient is a natural, FDA-approved colorant found in a wide variety of food and beverage products in the U.S. 

We use the extract in the strawberry base for our Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino, Strawberry Smoothies and three food items – the Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie.  While it is a safe product that poses no health risk, we are reviewing alternative natural ingredients.

Your feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to share your thoughts with us here. 

Cliff Burrows
president, Starbucks U.S. 


UPDATE:Thank you for all of your feedback and points of view on this topic. As I mentioned last week, we are looking at alternative natural ingredients and looking at how we will reformulate. Please continue the dialog, as we greatly value your feedback. We will keep you posted on our progress.


3/29/2012 2:57 PM

Relax everyone! It is a natural ingredient!

3/29/2012 3:04 PM

I didn't realize how few people knew that cochineal was derived from insects. I'm vegan, and was surprised at the amount of feedback to this, given that this ingredient is commonly used. That said, thanks for reconsidering--the more vegan options the better for me.

3/29/2012 3:10 PM

As a partner who is seriously allergic to cochineal, I was very disappointed in the formula change of the strawberry puree. I am also disappointed to find the ingrident use in cake pops and the red velvet whoopie pies, which I have avoided because of their color. The packages of those two pastries do not list that as an ingredient -- at least at my store and at least not in the past.

I could potentially die of anaphylactic shock from this ingredient and I think it should be, if not removed, CLEARLY LISTED!!

3/29/2012 3:15 PM

I know that it is a natural ingredient, yet I feel cheated somehow. I have to admit that I never bother to check ingredient lists of anything, yet I just had blind faith that my food would not contain insects. its eye opner to think that just because the ingredients are approved does not mean they are not disgusting, I guess somehow I always thought that natural equals herbal or extracted from plants. I just have to add that ever since I found out I've been avoiding any red food just in case, so if you do find hopefully a plant based colour it would be amazing.

3/29/2012 3:21 PM

I have no problem with it being used. However if you are going to use something in your product it should be on the list of ingredients. As TheAliJoJo said they are allergic to cochineal and I know what its like to partake of a food item that I had no idea I was allergic to (because of no label) until my throat started closing off.

3/29/2012 3:30 PM


I knew the Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino was not vegan. This is a natural product - just not vegetarian. I wish Starbucks would have disclosed this - this should have been on the list of ingredients.

Not something Starbucks would usually do

3/29/2012 3:52 PM

I'm vegan...would love to see you use a (plant-based) vegetable dye (beets?)

3/29/2012 4:02 PM

Cochineal extract is found in a lot of other things, not just Starbucks products. It's found in many yogurts that you eat. Cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Maya people and has continued to be used to this day. It's been around forever and used many different ways, such as coloring food, cloth, and cosmetics. It's FDA approved.

I really don't find this to be gross or misleading, really.

I mean, I understand if you have allergies to it, you may want to make yourself aware of the ingredients your favorite foods contain. But I have no allergies, I am not vegan and I buy many products that contain the same ingredient, thus I have no problem with it.

If Starbucks feels the need to improve their recipes for a more natural selection, go for it. But I don't think Starbucks should be frowned upon because the use cochineal extract.

3/29/2012 4:03 PM

I have heard so many people say, "Relax. It's natural. It's in a lot of food products!" To them I say, You have not seen your daughter's face so swollen that she no longer had a nose and feared that she would stop breathing before you made it to the doctor's office. You have not been told that the next time she ingests cochineal or carmine that even with an epi pen and trip to an ER, she might not survive.

Rat poop and spider legs are "natural" too, but I don't think you would want to ingest any of them in your breakfast muffin or yogurt. There are plenty of natural ways to color products that don't involve bodies of bugs - beet juice, beta carotene, etc.

3/29/2012 4:38 PM

My teenage son is allergic to cochineal extract, but stays away from anything red or pink due to the fact that you can't be sure what's in it. We are all Starbucks addicts and would have appreciated it if this was clearly stated in the cafe and drive-thru.  

3/29/2012 4:38 PM

I have to agree with LovelyLeah. I have a friend, her daughter has an allergy to red dyes. My friend asks before purchasing products that she thinks might be a risk to her daughters health. If the person she's asking doesn't know then she avoids the purchase. My friend herself is a vegetarian and has no problem with any of this. I was a little surprised to find out about this ingredient but if it's been used for many different things for so long and never bothered me before... then it's not going to bother me now.

3/29/2012 4:49 PM

I'd just like to say I have no problem with cochineal extract being used in your products. It's no more 'disgusting' than any other animal product.

I do think it would be nice to find an alternative, since cochineal extract does cause severe allergic reactions in some people, but I don't think a company should have to apologise for using an entirely legitimate, safe, natural, and sustainable product simply because some people are (foolishly) squeamish about the idea of 'eating bugs'. It's not as if the barista is mashing up some random insects they found out back and mixing them into the drink.

3/29/2012 5:06 PM

let's face it! no matter what product is used, someone will be allergic to it.  Post the ingredients; let everyone make their choices.

But realize along the way that if you want picture perfect food presentation you have sacrifice some of your ideals; organic production technigues will not produce blemish-free fruit & vegetables, natural dyes are beautiful but not always in the colour you want!

No Nut Nation
3/29/2012 5:09 PM

We make an awesome all natural, nut free, egg free and "beetle free" red velvet mini cupcake. Tastes great, looks beautiful. After many months of perfecting our recipe, we've finally done it. We would be happy to make this available to Starbucks.

3/29/2012 5:40 PM

I think unfortunately some people are un familiar with how widely used the chochinal extract is used I am grossed out by it however as previously stated if your a regular consumer of animal products it is no more disgusting then what is in those products. However you could still remain all natural and use red dye made from beets.

3/30/2012 4:32 AM

Thank you Cliff.  Personally, this extract doesn't alarm me, but it is good to see Starbucks acting so swiftly to customer outcry. ~Melody

3/30/2012 9:15 AM

First, to be fair, Starbucks shouldn’t be singled out by the media for the use of cochineal extract when its use in the food industry is so widespread.  And for those of you out there who may not be aware (and if you aren’t, you may want to start becoming aware by reading books like “In Defense of Food” and watching DVD’s like “The Future of Food.”) – there are MUCH MORE serious concerns in our food supply these days than cochineal extract.  

But positive change in our food supply needs to start somewhere.  And who’s in a better position to attach themselves to such a worthwhile cause, educate consumers about how our food is really made, and create meaningful changes in our food supply than a food retailer and leader who has 25 million followers on Facebook??

And on that same note, thank you for listening to your customers.  It’s admirable for the president of the company to be so responsive to customers and even more importantly – to be flexible enough to be open to new ideas.  That’s the mark of a successful company.  But since you ARE asking … I want to further explore some terms, and comment on some of the previous remarks made:

1) ‘FDA Approved’:  Citing ‘FDA approval’ (AKA ‘Monsanto Chemical and Bio-Tech Company approval’) as the litmus test for the safety of yours (or any other) food products in our country is not exactly reassuring.  Americans are becoming (if not already) the sickest people in the world because of the very products that FDA approves.

2) ‘Natural’:

• Turtle poop and worms are natural, too.  But that doesn’t mean I want to eat it them in my morning pastry or drink them in my morning coffee.

• Honey, produced by bees is widely known.  It’s also usually either THE ingredient or advertised front and center; not hidden in the fine print.

• Re: The Aztecs and Mayans using it 100’s of years ago:  My understanding is that they used it for fabrics, not for food.  It started being used for food in modern times to replace synthetic forms of red dye.

3) ‘Why’, not ‘what’ is the question we need to be asking:  Some of the people writing in seemed to have completely missed the point.  Have we as a society gotten so far removed from “real food” that adding artificial flavoring and coloring to change the look and taste of ‘real’ foods no longer makes us blink an eyelash?  Yes –it IS artificial to make strawberries redder than they naturally are whether you’re using natural additives or not. There’s something not right to me when we start saying that we’re ‘reviewing alternative natural ingredients’ to make our strawberry products an ‘unnatural’, superficial shade of red.  To me, there’s something wrong with this picture.  Aren’t the strawberries themselves (just as they are) a “natural enough” ingredient??  How about adding … NOTHING??! Are we adding crushed bugs to strawberry drinks and dessert recipes in our own kitchens just so they could turn bright red??  No.

4) ‘Leader’:   A leader doesn’t say “everyone else is doing it so that makes it OK.”  Leaders change and set the  trend that others follow.  You are a market leader.  Be a trend-setter for other companies to follow.

5) ‘Change agent’:  This site defines it better than I ever could:  


Rather than be afraid that your strawberries/products won’t be as “RED” as your competitors, instead be

a ‘change agent’.  Use it to your advantage.  OWN IT.  Proudly advertise it.  Put signs up in your store telling customers that your strawberry products are not bright red because you ONLY use strawberries to make the red color, not crushed red bugs or synthetic red dyes or anything else – natural or not – that all the rest of your competitors use.  Educate your customers about ingredients and challenge them to compare your ingredients with your competitors’. Your customers are intentionally paying more than they would at a McDonald’s drive thru because they WANT superior products – they WILL appreciate the effort.

3/30/2012 2:17 PM

It isn't so much the use of a cochineal extract, made from beetles, that has me so upset. I would be equally upset to learn that you started using gelatin or another similar animal derived product. As a vegetarian it is very disappointing to learn that you changed a product so that my daughter and I can not have it. And failed to disclose that you changed the formulation. It would be very tiring having to ask to see all ingredients lists every time I visit your stores.

My daughter (almost 7) upon hearing that she can no longer have Strawberries and Cream Frappuccinos cried. We got her an alternative drink but she didn't want to finish it because all she could think of was bugs in her drink. I haven't broken the news to her about the cake pops yet. You are going to have a very wide rift to mend with this consumer.

I do applaud you for removing the artificial red dye as that is something very important to our family. As a previous poster said, be a change agent. Things do not have to be so brightly colored. It doesn't have an impact on the taste.

3/30/2012 3:44 PM

Thank you Cliff for listening.   We appreciate your response.

Mike Crews
3/30/2012 4:11 PM

Why does a tiny minority of picky eaters have so much clout?  This absurd.  

3/30/2012 9:23 PM

I'm a vegan partner. When people think about a fruit-based drink, I feel like they aren't expecting something quite like this. Maybe that's why this is an issue.

I think it's a clever way to propose this change as natural, but there are alternatives to the coloring process , that may be more expensive, but lucrative as well. For the good of the brand, I believe it is in our best interest to change the ingredients.

3/31/2012 5:36 AM

I am totally ok with beetles being used, they are natural.My daughter is allergic to artificial chemical colors so her diet is VERY limited. Go Starbucks! yeah beetles!

3/31/2012 5:38 AM

As long as the ingredients are labeled, the allergy issued should be covered. Pls dont stop using beetles.

3/31/2012 5:47 AM

As long as ingredients are listed so ppl can make a choice,I dont see a problem. These beetles are in a LOT of things, certainly not just starbucks products.  

3/31/2012 9:01 AM

Since I was diagnosed with MS 6 years ago, my husband and I have completely eliminated trans fat from our diets. We have loved the Starbucks has been making the same transition since we always have a place to grab "safe" food and drinks on-the-go! I was disappointed, however, to find out about the use of cochineal extract. It's use in other products doesn't make it any less gross. I don't make an effort to eat bugs and I don't see how having them ground up in my food is any better. The Strawberry Smoothie was a great way to get a quick protein serving, but I'll be avoiding it until this ingredient is changed. I have faith in Starbucks and hope you'll notify us if and when the ingredient changes.

4/2/2012 4:58 PM

Why not just use real food, real strawberries. Don't look for a different 'all natural' solution, use the REAL thing. Accept NO substitutes. This is why there has been such a rise in health problems, we as a society have moved away from using the real thing and have started using weird sys. Nothing is EVER AS GOOD. As the real thing. Come on Starbucks!! I expect better from you!

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