Menckens Ghost

More About: Health and Physical Fitness

Starbucks Less Healthy than a Snickers Bar

Below is an article about a Starbucks Frappuccino having considerably more sugar and calories than a Snickers Bar, an article of interest to me for two reasons:  one, I used to work for the maker of Snickers, M&M Mars; and two, I've been saying for many years that most Starbucks drinks are milkshakes masquerading as coffee. 

A mystery is why New York City and other locales have levied a tax on soda but not on Starbucks drinks that have more calories than soda.  My guess is that it is a class thing--that soda drinkers tend to be blue-collar while Starbucks customers tend to be white-collar and the main constituency of nanny mayors. 

By the way, if people would make coffee at home and save and invest the five bucks they would have spent everyday at Starbucks, they would have $135,000 in savings after 30 years, assuming a 5% compound return. 

Cheers,

Mencken's Ghost

Starbucks' Frappuccino Gets a Sugar Makeover

To cut sugar content of decadent drink, coffee giant tested 20 types of cream and 70 vanilla flavorings

By

Julie Jargon

The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 30, 2018 5:30 a.m. ET

Starbucks Corp. SBUX 0.66% is putting its decadent Frappuccino on a diet, looking to reduce the drink's high sugar levels, which have scared away increasingly health-conscious consumers and hurt sales.

Some versions of the drink contain more than twice as much sugar as a standard Snickers bar and far more calories. A 16-ounce Mocha Frappuccino contains 410 calories, compared with 250 in a 1.86-ounce Snickers.

It has been tough for Starbucks to lower the calories and keep the sweet taste that consumers expect.

"It was incredibly challenging to mimic what was taken out," said Jason Davis, senior manager of beverage innovation at Starbucks. To achieve a similar texture and taste, the company tested more than 20 types of cream, 70 different vanilla flavorings and created a new bottle to make sure the proper amounts of flavor are dispensed.

Getting this right is important to Starbucks because the Frappuccino remains a key sales driver. In fiscal 2015, sales of the blended Frappuccinos it sells in its cafes—not the bottled version sold in grocery stores—rose 17% and represented 14% of revenue at Starbucks U.S. company-operated cafes. This year through May, Frappuccino sales have declined by 3%, and the beverage now accounts for just 11% of that revenue.

"They contain too much sugar and too many calories for me to even consider a Frappuccino," said Gina Cool, a former personal trainer drinking a cup of regular coffee at a Starbucks in Thousand Oaks, Calif., this week.

The company figured that if it could remove some of the sugar and calories from Frappuccinos, customers would buy more of them, particularly in the afternoon, when people typically buy them as a treat. Starbucks is testing the healthier Frappuccinos with customers in 600 Starbucks stores in California, Missouri and Rhode Island.

Reformulating the Frappuccino to be healthier is "a smart move," said BTIG restaurant analyst Peter Saleh. "I'm not sure it's going to be the saving grace for them, but I think they'll see some incremental sales from it over time."

Tinkering with an established brand is risky, though, as companies have learned, such as Coca-Cola Co. when it introduced a reformulated version of its namesake product in the 1980s before having to bring back "classic" Coke months later. Starbucks created the Frappuccino in 1995, and its smooth consistency became almost as iconic as its sweet flavor.

"We kept saying, 'Texture is king,'" Mr. Davis said.

Most of the company's flavored drinks, including vanilla lattes and caramel macchiatos, were made with syrup that contained both sugar and flavor. Customers could ask for more or fewer pumps of syrup, but until now, there was no way to get extra flavor without adding sugar.

Trying to retain the flavors, while reducing the sugar, however, proved difficult for a drink as complex as the Frappuccino—a blend of ice, milk, brewed coffee, flavored syrup and whipped cream, usually topped with chocolate or caramel sauce.

The "glue" that holds the drink together is its proprietary Frappuccino syrup, which consists of water, sugar, salt, xanthan gum, and natural and artificial flavors, among other ingredients. The company had to ensure the healthier drink would have the same creamy texture and taste customers were used to without that syrup.

The company looked to its Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions, which it began working on around the same time, as a model for what it could do with coffee. Researchers had decided to try separating flavors from sugar by infusing Starbucks' white, green, black and herbals teas with naturally sweet botanical and fruit blends, such as pineapple, peach citrus and strawberry, rather than added sugar. Customers were told they could mix and match the flavors to create custom drinks, such as pineapple black tea or strawberry green tea and, if they wanted it sweeter, add pumps of liquid cane sugar.

The Teavana infusions, which rolled out last summer, have been a hit, with sales of those and other cold "refreshment" drinks, such as lemonade, up 14% this fiscal year through May. Sandra Stark, senior vice president of U.S. beverage category and global innovation at Starbucks, said the infusions put consumers in the "driver's seat" when it comes to controlling the sugar content.

For the Frappuccino, Starbucks decided sweet cream would be the best way to deliver the expected texture, though it took experimenting with about 20 formulas to arrive at the right one, Mr. Davis said. The drink developers decided they could add "dashes" of unsweetened, natural flavor, such as vanilla or hazelnut, and give customers the option to add or subtract pumps of simple syrup for more or less sweetness (each pump of syrup contains five grams of sugar). If customers want more vanilla or hazelnut flavor, they could ask for an extra dash without getting extra sugar.

But that wasn't simple either. Starbucks went through more than 70 iterations of natural vanilla flavoring before arriving at one that mimicked the taste of the syrup.

After researchers settled on the right flavors, there was the question of how to deliver the precise amount. Too much or too little flavor could make the drink overpowering or weak. The pumps Starbucks used to deliver the sweetened syrup were designed to dispense an exact dose, but Starbucks didn't have a bottle that delivered the right amount of vanilla or hazelnut flavoring. Mr. Davis worked with a Seattle bottle manufacturer to find a combination of parts to make a bottle with the right-sized opening and a lid to prevent spilling.

The result was a Frappuccino that isn't as dense and sugary. The new caramel Frappuccino recipe in a 16-ounce size, for example, contains 50 fewer calories, 18 fewer grams of sugar and 150 fewer milligrams of sodium than the original.

The Frappuccino makeover is part of a broader effort at Starbucks to reduce the added sugar content of its indulgent beverages by 25% by the end of 2020.

The company tested the new Frappuccinos internally for two years. One panel of testers studied the crystal size of the ice to ensure the drink wasn't so cold it would lead to "brain freeze."

Appeared in the August 31, 2018, print edition as 'Decadent Drink Gets a Recipe Revamp.'

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Charlie Patton
Entered on:

"assuming a 5% compound return." Wow, Craig. You're old! I am, too, but I'm sadly aware of what banks have been "offering" for the past 20 years.


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