Is Starbucks out of its gourd?
One high-profile consumer advocate is strongly criticizing Starbucks for, she says, not fully and clearly disclosing to consumers all of the ingredients in its wildly-successful Pumpkin Spice Latte.
The blog also blasts Starbucks because of one thing you won't find in its Pumpkin Spice Latte: pumpkin.
The beverage just made its annual return to stores for the fall season.
Vani Hari, an influential nutritional advocate who goes by the name Food Babe, posted a lengthy critique of the pumpkin latte under the headline: "You'll Never Guess What's in a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (Hint: You Won't be Happy)."
For Starbucks SBUX, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is a big seasonal attraction that kicks off its busiest and most profitable time of year. Since its initial roll-out in 2003, more than 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes have been sold, says Starbucks.
For fast-food companies, upsetting Food Babe is rarely beneficial. While some skeptics and food giants have questioned Hari's credentials and motivation, she has had success taking on everyone from Kraft to Subway to Chick-fil-A. And now, Starbucks.
Notes Hari's blog: " While (Starbucks lists) some ingredients on their website, they still do not list the ingredients in their most popular items: their drinks. This includes all of their lattes, Frappuccinos, Macchiatos, smoothies, etc. Starbucks doesn't even publish the ingredients in their kids' drinks, keeping parents completely in the dark."
Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe responds, in an email, that there are more than 170,000 ways to customize Starbucks beverages, so listing ingredients in every case can be very complex. But, she notes, "We're working on listing core beverage recipes online via Starbucks.com and hope to have an update in the near future."
In her blog, Hari criticizes the Pumpkin Spice Latte because she says it is made with:
• Caramel coloring. The advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the Food & Drug Administration to ban caramel coloring due to safety concerns and a potential cancer risk. Hari, in an email to USA TODAY, says that Starbucks uses it only for "cosmetic" reasons.
Starbucks is "actively looking at phasing out caramel coloring," says Passe, and it has been for some time. "In any instances where it is used in our beverages, the level is below the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) and safe to consume."
• High fructose corn syrup, at least in some cases. In her blog, Hari says she received conflicting answers from Starbucks about whether or not the lattes have any HFCS.
Passe's email says the standard pumpkin lattes sold in stores do not contain high fructose corn syrup and are sweetened with sugar. But she says that for customers who want to make it at home, the Fontana Pumpkin Sauce, available on StarbucksStore.com, is sweetened with HFCS.
• No pumpkin. Where's the pumpkin? she asks in the blog.
The latte, says Passe's email, features the "unmistakable pumpkin pie spices of fall -- cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clover -- but not actual pumpkin."