The PETA campaign for Starbucks to stop charging extra for vegan milk has now been signed by over 169,000 people which is still some way short of the target of 200,000 signatures. This is up from just over 46,000 signatures in early July.
In Starbucks plant-based milk costs more. In the UK Starbucks does provide soy milk as a free alternative but continues to charge 40 pence more for oat, almond or coconut milk. Giving customers this added choice makes perfect business sense in 2019 when so many people have become vegans. There were far fewer people who had embraced the vegan lifestyle when Starbucks began to offer dairy alternatives for their coffees. Gone are those days when people who wished to avoid dairy milk were few and far between and were simply grateful to be catered for.
Today it is unarguable that a vegan trend is sweeping the world. This started as a grassroots movement, but today big corporations are happy to jump on this bandwagon. Why not? It makes perfect commercial sense to recognise the change in consumer demand particularly from younger people. Millennials are even raising a generation of vegan children. Companies like Greggs and Beyond Meat who are cashing in on this trend are being rewarded with increased share values.
Penalising Plant-Based Customers
So surely the time has come for a company like Starbucks to not penalised plant-based customers?
A cynic would say that the global chain sees this new demographic as an easy way to rack in some extra profits.
A very thoughtful article has appeared in Civil Eats stating very reasonably that it is about time that cafes and restaurants ended their vegan tax. The author Britty Hamby argues persuasively that the practice of charging more for plant-based milk should end. She argues persuasively that “the costs to be rolled into one”, as they would for other food groups.
“Perhaps if plant milks weren’t an extra charge, more customers would try them” says Hamby. “When companies charge an extra fee to individual customers, they’re alienating vegans and making a plant-based choice less desirable for non-vegans”.
With all the problems the dairy industry is having, and with sales of plant-based milk rocketing, it is rapidly becoming an antiquated attitude that plant-milk costs are not absorbed into the general overhead costs. Veganism is growing and the demand for dairy milk is decreasing.
Starbucks is missing the chance to position itself as being part of a new young social movement that cares about health, animals and the environment. That stance would attract greater numbers of a rapidly burgeoning customer base. It would also encourage curious people who might not otherwise have thought of ordering their cappuccino made from oat milk to do so – now that would be something for a progressive company to be proud of.
Starbucks is in danger of looking as though it is behind the times.