James Cromwell’s Starbucks Protest Sparks Global Conversation on Chain’s Plant-Based Milk Fees

In a widely publicized event, actor James Cromwell protested Starbucks on May 10 by supergluing his hand to a counter in one of the coffee chain’s NYC stores. Wearing an animal rights T-shirt, Cromwell and other activists demanded Starbucks end its long-standing practice of charging extra for plant-based milk options.

“Stop punishing kind and environmentally conscious customers”

The PETA-organized demonstration received worldwide media coverage, and provoked lively social media conversations about the fairness of Stabucks’ extra fees for non-dairy milk. The protest marks an escalation in pressure tactics by PETA, which has actively campaigned against Starbucks’ vegan milk policies in recent years. In April, music icon and PETA supporter Sir Paul McCartney wrote an open letter urging former Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to drop the dairy-free surcharge at the company’s US locations. Earlier this year, Starbucks locations in the UK fully eliminated the upcharge.  

PETA Protesters Starbucks NYC

Plant-based progress

Despite the protests, Starbucks has increasingly made strides to offer a more plant-based friendly menu. After introducing a succession of dairy alternatives – almond, coconut and oat milk – the multinational coffee chain branched out into a variety of plant-based innovations in retail, debuting dairy-free bottled Frappucinos and specialty coffee creamers. In 2020-21, its US stores introduced the first plant-based food options – the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich and a vegan protein meal box. There is also speculation the company is testing plant-based whipped cream in some US markets.

Starbucks Vegan Protein Box/ Chickpea Falafel
Vegan Protein Box ©Starbucks

Contributing to climate change

But activists argue Starbucks’ continuing surcharge for plant-based milk runs counter to its image as a socially and environmentally responsible company, and demand the chain treat customers who choose not consume dairy more fairly.

“My friends at PETA and I are calling on Starbucks to stop punishing kind and environmentally conscious customers for choosing plant milks,” Cromwell said in a press release from PETA. “We all have a stake in the life-and-death matter of the climate catastrophe, and Starbucks should do its part by ending its vegan upcharge.”

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