Is Starbucks greenwashing us with its ‘all-natural’ campaign?

We’re going to give Starbucks the benefit of the doubt here. Their relatively recent campaign against “all that unnecessary stuff” like trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, etc., has apparently let a few items slip through the cracks — their beverages.

Maybe it was an oversight. Maybe they never intended to be misleading. But the fact remains that if you buy an item at Starbucks, you expect that it’s HFCS-free. There’s a sign at the counter that says so. Apparently, though, that sign applies only to food.

Starbucks sign declaring no trans-fats or high-fructose corn syrup.
Starbucks sign declaring no trans-fats or high-fructose corn syrup.
Ingredients of the Starbucks egg nog, which is used in its egg-nog latte.
Ingredients of the Starbucks egg nog, which is used in its egg-nog latte. Note the high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors.

Why would Starbucks be concerned about HFCS in its food but not in its beverages? Good question. Here’s what they said when we asked them:

Subject: Re: ingredients <<#67182-561274#>>
Date: Mon, 29 Nov

Hello Adrienne,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company. I am truly sorry to hear about your disappointment and frustration with Starbucks in stating that we use no artificial flavors or high fructose corn syrup in our products.

I want you to know that we take feedback from our loyal customers seriously. Because you know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks, I will share this with the retail beverage department here in our corporate office.

We have made a promise to our customers to provide outstanding products and service.  I know that this is a primary reason why you visit Starbucks and I understand how disappointing it is when we let you down.

Thank you so much adrienne, for giving us the opportunity to improve what we do.

If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know.

Thanks again,

Daniel G
Customer Relations

We’ll see what the retail beverage department has to say on the matter before passing judgment. If your items are all-natural, and you want to advertise that, then great. Have at it. But if only some of your items are all-natural, you should make it clear that that’s the case (and really, it’s not that hard to use natural ingredients. If you’re doing it with your food, you can do it with your beverages). Otherwise, it feels like we’re being greenwashed.

Why’s it such a big deal? Another good question. While there’s been some debate about the health effects of HFCS, many trustworthy people say it contributes to obesity. And others say it’s bad for the environment. Listen, I’m not a scientist. My main concern is that it’s so heavily subsidized. Why does HFCS need to be in bread? Or ketchup? Seriously, go to the grocery store and try to find something without HFCS. Good luck.

Like I said, we’ll wait to see if the beverage people respond. Stay tuned!