Starbucks Filters In Feedback For Healthier Choices

my starbucks ideaJuly 2, 2009 Back to part three in our series on healthGAMERS in a jiff…but first, a quick coffee break, with some health news you can use.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Starbucks’ ubiquitous media and marketing presence has had a grande (venti?) impact on kids.

From status symbols of socioeconomics in school, to age compression where caffeine-culture equates with being a ‘grown-up,’ children have been sucking down coffee drinks and frappuccinos like costly candy bars.

This past June, I watched uniformed kidlets whipping out their Starbucks card in ‘my treat’ mode as if on a date at this yuppie chow chain and harkened back to my exposure  to coffee somewhere around my newsroom days…But since this isn’t a Herb Caen retro piece, let’s just say caffeine, and sports/energy drinks were a non-issue in most childhoods of today’s parents.

This post isn’t another one of my rants about marketing caffeine and junk food to kids, instead it’s about the welcome trend toward healthier fast food options, and the pressure (and marketplace demand) for natural, organic, and REAL food fare. Starbucks’ newly launched campaign fits right into this sea change of values expanding upon grassroots community building (their Shared Planet program, responsiveness to green initiatives, new V2V conversations) along with the basics: offering healthier, tastier fare) Let’s face it, they HAD to do something fast…


Starbucks has been media slammed from every angle in recent years, from fair trade foibles, high fat treats and milk hormones to labor disputes, and accusations of greenwashing, goodwashing and world domination.

Healthier items might help protect their ‘premium’ flanks in the ‘fast food coffee wars’ with McDonalds nipping at their backside…but even now the behemoth is in “catch up mode” with other cafe competitors who removed transfats and mandated cup compostables years ago (no I don’t own stock in Peet’s) —But hey…give credit where credit is due. (speaking of which, the  excellent graphic above was found on the Flickr photostream of Jackpot 321)

Starbucks IS getting there. Cue polite applause.

starbucks actionI love ‘tell us how to fix it’ thinking, and there are lots of fresh ideas brewing here…

Clearly one for Becky Carroll’s series at “Customers Rock” …where a criticized (ok, vilified) company tries for a turnaround taking marching orders from the customers themselves who offer ideas on how to shape up, and then HELP them do it? Sweet!

Their clever “ideaList” of ‘squeaky wheel’ outreach to patrons themselves is smart, incorporating opinions and critiques using social media as a delivery tool for change.

Excellent way to turn ‘complaints’ into responsiveness… Crowdsourcing, polling of favorites and customer-centric marketing 101.

No more chem cuisine of artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup? Check.

Healthier menu items and all-natural ingredients? Check.

Transparency regarding nutrition info and labeling? Check. (in my counter-marketing work I rely on detailed visual snapshots like Nutrition Data but that’s overkill for most ordinary consumers)

Eco-monitoring, quality control overseas? Corporate social responsibility and fair trade improvements to ‘walk the walk?’ Pseudo-check. The eyes of the world are on them, time will tell…

After all, we’ve seen multinational corporations do major global branding overhauls by listening to their customers, like Nike’s Gamechangers where we’ve been able to ‘see change happen’ even against formidable odds…

rebecca-marathonI’ll admit, I never really thought I’d see our own ‘elite nutrition’ guru be paid for her time to evaluate menu items (which actually tells me Starbucks’ marketing machine has some SERIOUS dietician outreach strategies on the ‘influencer’ front to launch this baby!) but I DO think Rebecca was fair and forthright in her reasons for giving certain items an “RD thumbs up” (she’s NOT the rollover type) and is also completely correct in giving hearty applause for moving in a heart healthy direction…(as you know, I don’t roll over to my advisory board, in debates either!) As my Skype bubble says, “I am not a pessimist, nor an optimist, but a possibilist.” —

xtreme eatingI did NOT see Starbucks on the CSPI ‘Xtreme Eating Awards of 2009’ for food porn as a belly busting train wreck this year, (3pp pdf here) BUT their Caffe Mocha Venti still remains on the “Worst 10” CSPI list, equating to a  “Quarter Pounder with Cheese in a cup.” (450 cals/13 g bad fat)

I single this out not to be belligerent and ornery, nor to play “good cop, bad cop” with my own nutrition right arm, Rebecca Scritchfield who’s reporting on Starbuck’s new fare from her RD point of view, but simply because KIDS continue to snarf these ‘SNACKS’ instead of counting them as ‘meals,’ with marketing cues to eat whatever/whenever they want, like Taco Bell’s branding of the “4th meal” at midnight…

This continues to present a problem for people like me doing obesity intervention and wellness education…

If we could ditch (or at least corral) the whole ‘caffeine and energy drink’ and marketing allure of high fat frappes to kids OVERALL then we’d be heading in a healthier direction, until then, we need to wildly applaud chains that champion change and veer toward full disclosure of what’s IN the food so we can make our own decisions.

“Many people do not realize how many hidden calories can be in the average smoothie or restaurant salad. And no one wants to think they’re making a healthy choice just to realize they’ve accidentally consumed half their day’s calories on a smoothie.”

“At Starbucks, our salads and smoothies were designed to deliver real nutrition and great flavors at a sensible calorie level. Our two salads are 250 and 300 calories with dressing and our new Strawberry Banana Vivanno Smoothie provides 15 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and 100% of your daily Vitamin C – at just 280 calories,” said Katie Thomson, registered dietitian and senior nutritionist, Starbucks Coffee Company.

Small but worthy steps…Or, make that, “tall” steps...

After all it IS Starbucks with their wacky, confusing names. Enjoy Rebecca’s article. I think it’s ‘grande.’

Starbucks Cleans Up Ingredients, Adds To Healthy Menu Options

by Shaping Youth Correspondent Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, Balanced Health & Nutrition

Vivanno_478_2432.JPGThink your ideas don’t matter to a big company like Starbucks? Think again…

This week Starbucks is launching a whole line of new foods all inspired by customer ideas submitted at My Starbucks Idea.

The bottom line. Starbucks customers want good nutrition – as evidenced by the fact their number one selling food is their oatmeal. Starbucks has taken their healthy approach to food to a whole new level!

Starbucks asked me to help spread the word about these changes. After talking with them about what they were up to and why, how could I not participate? (Starbucks paid me for my time to speak with their lead dietitian, Katie Thompson and research so I could write this blog post, but they had zero input into the content.)

Here’s the skinny on the changes:

  • No more high fructose corn syrup – this was the #1 change customers requested on My Starbucks Idea
  • No more artificial colors or flavors
  • New menu item selections, such as Vivanno smoothies, salads, and a gluten free orange valencia cake
  • Improvements to ingredients in some of their “favorites” like egg whites in their spinach feta wrap and reduced fat turkey bacon egg sandwich (real eggs, peeps – no substitutes here! I know, it seems odd to tout real eggs in an egg wrap, but it’s true lots of places use egg products)
  • All natural turkey in their sandwiches

I picked out a few of my faves, with an explanation of why I like them.

Vivanno strawberry banana smoothie – simple ingredients: fresh banana, strawberry fruit puree with no added sugar, 2% or skim milk, and Starbucks’ own whey protein powder (they didn’t go with a “vitamin tasting” supplement product, they made their own)!

Vivanno chocolate banana smoothie – again, simple ingredients: this one has fresh bananas, bittersweet cocoa, 2% or skim milk, and Starbucks protein and fiber powder.

Why I like them: They’re delicious! These drinks are great breakfast choices, especially on hot summer days. D.C. can get to be 80-100 degrees and humid. It’s hard to feel hungry in the morning when it is that hot out. Most people skip breakfast and that’s a missed opportunity to nourish yourself and it could leave you Jonesing for junk food from the vending machine.

These smoothies contain the same ingredients and the right portion (16 ounces – grande) I would recommend to my clients if they were going to make it on their own at home and now there’s an option for a healthy smoothie with nothing artificial for busy, on-the-go people. Grab your iced coffee and a smoothie and you’re on your way to being well-hydrated on these brutally hot days.

Nutritionally, they have about 300 calories, healthy carbohydrates for quick energy and protein for sustained energy. They’ll also help you get fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you want all the details, I provided the nutrition info below.

For the active athletes out there, especially endurance marathons, triathlons, and the like… these smoothies are ideal recovery drinks post-workout with the target combo of about 4:1 carbs to protein ratio.

Classic salad – chef salad with egg, cucumbers, and a little monteray jack cheese, on romaine with a healthy balsamic viniagrette dressing for 250 calories with dressing!

Why I like it: Everyone is “going green” these days, but that doesn’t always include getting enough veggies. This salad is a great way to meet your veggie quota, especially if you ran out of veggies or just didn’t have time to put together a salad.

Make it a meal by wrapping up half the salad in a whole wheat tortilla (from the grocery store) and eat the rest of the greens as a side salad. You can also add a fat free Greek yogurt or cottage cheese on the side to round out your healthy and cool summer lunch.

As a dietitian, I have to say that I’m impressed with these changes. They really bumped up the nutrition quality. I was impressed with the flavors and product quality of their improved baked items. The cranberry orange muffin and banana bread (with 30% fresh banana) were my faves.

I don’t always go for the baked goods, but as a sometimes food these offerings pass the test. They have good nutrition for the calories. I appreciate Starbucks commitment to nutrition by working on the ingredients and keeping the portion sizes realistic. Most of their menu items are 500 calories or less.

When doing some research for this, I stumbled upon some interesting tid-bits from the Starbucks press release that shows how their changes have impacted the health of their customers, including:

  • Saving customers 7 billion calories per year, equaling nearly 5 million pounds of fat by using 2% over whole milk as the standard in all beverages and setting nutrition “guardrails” for new products to be less than 500 calories
  • Removing artificial trans fat in all food and beverages in North America
  • Expanding the food and beverage portfolio to include a variety of options, including Fruit Cups, Yogurt Parfaits, Skinny Lattes, Vivanno™ Smoothies and Starbucks® Perfect Oatmeal

Read the Starbucks press release about these changes for more information.

Nutrition facts for Vivianno smoothies

nutrition facts



  1. I too applaud Starbucks for healthier menu ooptions! And the new smoothies are great, I just wish they would use more fiber. 16oz does not really fill me up and take the place of a meal (which is kind of the point for me). More fiber might help me feel full longer.

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