Starbucks 'Transitioning' From Bug Dye

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Starbucks announced it is "transitioning away" from using cochineal extract, derived from grinding up dried bodies of cochineal bugs, as dye in its strawberry-flavored products.

"After a thorough, yet fastidious, evaluation, I am pleased to report that we are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible," Cliff Burrows, president, Americas, wrote on the  Starbucks website.

Burrows said he expects to be "fully transitioned to lycopene, a natural, tomato-based extract," in the company's Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino beverage and Strawberry Banana Smoothie. He said the company is "transitioning away" from the use of cochineal extract in its Raspberry Swirl Cake, Birthday Cake Pop, Mini Donut with pink icing, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie.

In response to the blog post, one Starbucks fan wrote "it is encouraging and very respectable to see that Starbucks values their customers…"

Another customer wrote, "And for those of you thinking this is only affecting those vegans with too much to worry about already, it's not. I have [two nieces who] are completely allergic to eating or touching the dyes created from the little bugs.  Swelling of the tongue, migraines, fatigue to the point of passing out and much pain is what happens in a mild reaction."

Echoing what Burrows stated on March 29, after news broke about the use of the extract, he said on Thursday, "we fell short of your expectations by using natural cochineal extract as a colorant in four food and two beverage offerings in the United States. Our commitment to you, our customers, is to serve the highest quality products available. As our customers you expect and deserve better - and we promise to do better."

The company initially said the extract reduced its use of artificial ingredients by using the extract from the insects, found primarily in Mexico and South America. Cochineal dye has been used as a coloring agent since the 15th century and is considered safe by the FDA. It is widely used for coloration in jams, preserves, meat, marinades, alcoholic drinks, bakery products, cookies, cheddar cheese and many other food products.

It has been found by the World Health Organization, however, to cause asthma in some people and an allergic reaction in others.