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When you’re as big a corporation as Starbucks, you’re bound to offend people from time to time. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Starbucks Controversies."
For this list, we’re looking at those times when Starbucks caused argument and ended up in the news, both in America and on a global scale.
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#10: Misspelled Names on Cups
Possibly since Starbucks became a national and international sensation, baristas have been putting the wrong names or wrong spellings on cups. From understandable little misspellings like exchanging an “i” for an “e” or vice versa, to completely misheard names, sometimes it’s hard not to celebrate when a name is actually spelled correctly. However, there are times when the name on the cup can be crass or offensive, and while some of these are funny, the barista may or may not have end up with an awkward situation on their hands.
#9: No Pumpkin in Pumpkin Spice Lattes
In 2014, one food blogger started a movement that changed an entire recipe for one of the biggest seasons of the year for Starbucks. That’s right; the pumpkin spice latte season. Publishing an article about the famous syrup, Food Babe—as she’s known—stated that Starbucks never included the squash plant after which the drink is named in the ingredients. After this post quickly went viral, the coffee company was forced to respond, and as of 2015, the syrup has been revamped to include some actual pumpkin puree.
#8: Joe Magazine
If you’re scratching your head, thinking "Starbucks had a magazine?", don’t worry; you probably aren’t the only one. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it collaboration with Time Inc. came out in 1999, and after only three issues, the project was pulled. Hardly anyone, it seemed, wanted to read articles that one eBay purchaser described as “a little esoteric and abstract.” The company lost a lot of money on the failed venture, but former CEO Howard Schultz allegedly kept copies of the magazine in his office as a reminder that “sometimes you have to have the courage to fail.” Not bad advice, honestly.
#7: Unicorn Frappuccino
The Unicorn Frappuccino is one of the most colorful drinks the famous coffee company has ever served. The frosty drink is a burst of pink, purple, and blue with a topping of whipped cream and sugars of the same colors. The flavors of this bright drink range from sweet to fruity to sour, depending on how your straw stirs. It also looks very, very similar to the Unicorn Latte you can get at a coffee shop called “The End” in Brooklyn, NY. Yes, it seems to be true. According to the smaller cafe, the conglomerate stole their drink and called it theirs. It is awfully hard to deny the similarities.
Starbucks has always touted their transparency and their natural ingredients. Why then would the company refuse to talk about where they get their milk for all of their drinks and other baked goods? This was the question the movement Frankenbuck$ demandingly asked. It was found that the milk was potentially less than pure, taken from cows injected with a growth hormone known as rBGH. After a lot of pressure from the campaign, Starbucks was once again forced to reevaluate the ingredients for their menu items.
#5: Supporting the Israeli Military?
It’s amazing how quickly a tiny rumor—whether true or untrue—can become so much bigger than itself. This is especially true when it is concerning a company as large as Starbucks. When word got around that the coffee conglomerate might be supporting the Israeli Army, there was pushback. The company denied any dealings with any one political and/or religious cause, but they still faced some hardy questioning by the public. Even with the denial, there were still some claiming that if Starbucks wasn’t allied with Israel, they must be allied with the Israel’s enemies. It seems you can’t make anyone happy. However, the rumors finally subsided into the darker regions of the internet.
#4: Refugee Hiring
In response to Trump’s statement on refugees, Howard Schultz had a statement of his own: Starbucks would be hiring more refugees in America and worldwide; 10,000 over the next five years, to be exact. This sparked cheers and jeers from either side of the issue. People took to Twitter, with one side patting Starbucks on the back for doing right by their fellow man, and the other side starting a boycott movement in their own response. Despite all of this, the company stuck to their guns and is still hiring the refugees.
#3: Cup Designs
Every year, it seems, Starbucks upsets someone with their cup designs. When their earlier designs exclusively portrayed Christmas, leaving out the other holidays around that season, people were offended and brought attention to it. Then in 2015, the company put out a plain red cup, and Christians thought of it as a "war on Christmas." There was also The Unity Cup controversy. This design was meant to show, as the name suggests, unity ahead of the 2016 election. But the public thought that Starbucks was making a political statement, and it seemed no one wanted that from their coffee.
#RaceTogether was a great effort gone horribly wrong. CEO Howard Schultz thought the world needed to discuss the problems surrounding different races in order to understand one another a little bit better. While this is true and the conversation is important, most people agreed that this discussion is best not had while waiting for a morning latte. And then there was the blowback on the executives themselves, with people pointing out the lack of diversity among them. At least a discussion was started, even if it wasn’t the one the CEO originally intended.
#1: Black People Arrested
In 2018, in a Philadelphia Starbucks, two men were waiting for a friend. They didn't order anything and simply took a seat to chat. The manager—upon seeing they didn’t have drinks in their hands—called the cops to have the pair arrested for trespassing. At least trespassing was the reason she gave for calling the police in the first place. However, she hadn't done it to other patrons. The difference? The arrested pair were black. When news of this hit the internet, it started a boycott movement on Twitter and other social media sites. The company responded, stating plans to close over 8000 stores for a day for racial bias training.