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Drink will have 18 fewer grams of sugar, but is new formula a big enough change?

Tim Nelson
September 04, 2018

Back in the days before you could find a Starbucks literally every corner, the Frappuccino used to be synonymous with the growing coffee chain. But somewhere along the way, we realized that their signature beverage is crammed full of calories and sugar. That simply won’t do in today’s health-conscious age, an Starbucks is prepared to make a change.

In an effort to woo customers back to their frappe-fiending ways, Starbucks is testing out a retooled formula. Across 600 locations in California, Missouri, and Rhode Island, the global coffeehouse conglomerate will try out a new Frappuccino formula that cuts the sugar count down from the standard 67(!) grams to 49 grams, a reduction of more than 26%. The new, “lighter” take on the classic Frappuccino will also weigh in at 370 calories, compared to 420 for the OG recipe.

It would seem the lighter Frappe wasn’t a quick fix, but the product of some longer-term R&D tinkering. “It was incredibly challenging to mimic what was taken out,” said senior manager of beverage innovation Jason Davis of the two-year trial process to The Wall Street Journal. In order to replicate the classic Frappuccino taste and feel, Starbucks tested 20-plus types of cream, and a whole 70 different versions of vanilla flavoring alone. Even the bottle Starbucks will use to dispense frappuccino flavors got an overhaul.

While the changes to their signature sweet coffee-like drink fits with Starbucks’ plans to reduce sugar by 25% from their “most indulgent” beverages, it might not be enough to sway consumer preferences. Given FDA guidelines propose consuming no more than 50 grams of sugar a day, even the lighter Frappuccino pretty much puts consumers at that line in the form of just one drink.

In the short term, though, Starbucks really has no choice but to try to convince its customers that the Frappuccino is a fine beverage choice. The drink still makes up an estimated 11% of in-store revenues according to the WSJ, even if that’s a 3% decline from the 2015 fiscal year. Frappuccino phobia has been blamed for the sluggish 1% growth in same-store sales last quarter, so the attempt to win back sugar-wary customers couldn’t come at a more important time.

So will the reformulated Frappuccino win back customers, or is it too little too late—especially now that pumpkin spice season has officially begun? Who knows. It has the feel of an odd half-measure, with Starbucks neither ready to give up its sweet signature drink nor cater to health-conscious customers in a way that will get them to truly reappraise the Frappuccino. Regardless, if you’re the kind of sadist who loves the original-recipe frappuccino for its fatty sugar rush, you’ve been warned.  

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