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MORE BUCKS: Starbucks is under pressure to drop its surcharge for plant-based milks in all locations

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In the U.S., vegan milk accounts for 35% of the total plant-based food market and 15% of all dollar sales of retail milk. Dollar sales of plant-based milk have grown 20% in the past year and 27% over the past two years.

BETH GREENFIELD: For years now, Starbucks customers who prefer their coffee with oat, soy or almond milk over cow’s milk — whether because of veganism, lactose-intolerance or other reasons — have also had to swallow surcharges of around 70 cents extra per drink. While much noise has been made about the practice — including, at various points, by animal-rights group PETA and by vegan Alicia Silverstone, who has called out the coffee giant about the upcharging — there hasn’t been much movement, until now in the U.K.

That’s where, on Dec. 28, the coffee chain announced it would make “all dairy alternatives free” at its 1,020 U.K. locations as of Jan. 5. The announcement came less than three weeks after dairy-free advocate organization Switch4Good pressured the company to drop the fees through its Justice Cup campaign, arguing that doing so would “align with Starbucks’ stated commitment to sustainability,” as “oat milk requires 80 percent less land, 90 percent less water and emits less than one-third of the CO2 emissions” than the production of cow’s milk.

That campaign now continues stateside, pushing Starbucks to drop the nondairy surcharge at its more than 9,000 U.S. locations, where, a Starbucks spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, “a splash” of any plant-based milk in one’s brewed coffee is free, but if it’s “more than a splash, it would be a charge,” similar “to other beverage customizations such as an additional espresso shot or syrup.”

The pressure from Switch4Good included a recent open letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, printed as a half-page ad in the Seattle Times, signed by supporters including Olympic athletes and medical doctors and touting the positive environmental and health benefits of nondairy milk, particularly for the 36 percent of Americans who are lactose intolerant…

The plant-based milks offered by Starbucks include soy, coconut and almond, which the company makes its own version of, and oat, which Starbucks serves through its partnership with the brand Oatly. (A spokesperson from Oatly declined to comment on any pricing details for Yahoo Life)… The Starbucks spokesperson declined to provide specific milk prices or pricing differences as paid by Starbucks, as well as detailed surcharge prices, which vary by region…

Estimates — based on milk prices at Costco, which is where some smaller mom-and-pop coffee places often get supplies, and where the price of a gallon of conventional dairy milk is about half that of plant-based milk — show a scant difference between dairy and plant-based when factoring in likely discounts based on Starbucks making its own alternative milks and other factors (bulk Oatly purchases)…

In the U.S., vegan milk accounts for 35 percent of the total plant-based food market and 15 percent of all dollar sales of retail milk, according to the Good Food Institute, which works to accelerate the innovation of alternative proteins. Dollar sales of plant-based milk, it also reports, have grown 20 percent in the past year and 27 percent over the past two years…

There’s also a question of how much demand there is for cow’s milk. A piece in the Northeastern University Political Review calls dairy a “dying industry,” noting, “Heavy subsidy masks the industry’s lowered demand.” It adds, “The dairy lobby is one of the most influential in Washington, wielding an inordinate ability to garner government support for their industry … The subsidies are bailing out a dying industry. As with all other goods, dairy production should be tied to consumer demand in the free market”…

Americans have been drinking less cow’s milk, meanwhile, falling at an average rate of almost 2.5 percent a year, according to the USDA — although it remains a staple item in nearly 95 percent of households. In response to changing demands, many dairy producers now also make nondairy milks and other products — and at least one dairy, Elmhurst, announced in 2018 that it was dropping cow’s milk altogether, instead shifting to plant-based almond, cashew, oat, walnut and hazelnut milk. Similarly, coffee chain Blue Bottle is differentiating itself from Starbucks by making oat milk its default for customers at some locations. SOURCE…

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