PETA Week of Action Demands Starbucks Drop Its Vegan Milk Surcharge

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

A morning cup of cruelty? No thanks! The last thing ethical consumers want in their coffee is cow’s milk—a product of the dairy industry, which forcibly impregnates cows, kidnaps baby cows from their mothers, and treats mother cows like milk machines.

Vegans, environmentalists, humans with lactose intolerance, and other consumers are saying no to dairy, which is bad for human health, the environment, and, most of all, cows. A coffee powerhouse like Starbucks, which sells nearly 4 million coffee drinks per day in the U.S. alone, can help turn the tide against big dairy. But despite incorporating vegan drinks into its menu, the chain still charges up to 80 cents more for lattes made with soy, coconut, almond, or oat milk rather than dairy.

PETA starbucks demo

Former Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has acknowledged that cow’s milk is the company’s biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions, and he confirmed that vegan milks are “a big part of the solution” in reducing the company’s carbon footprint—so why is Starbucks discouraging customers from buying climate- and animal-friendly milks by retaining the surcharge?

Until Starbucks stops charging extra for nondairy milk, PETA will continue brewing up pressure for the company by hosting passionate demonstrations, pushing an intense social media campaign to our millions of followers, and urging its customers to ditch dairy. Join PETA and hundreds of thousands of kind consumers in calling on the company to drop its vegan milk upcharge:

Keep reading to see how PETA is keeping the pressure on Starbucks.

Update (June 21, 2022): PETA is taking action against Starbucks and its unethical surcharge on vegan milk during our Starbucks Week of Action from June 20 to 26. During the week, supporters will take to the streets in bold demonstrations in Atlanta; Dallas; Orlando; Seattle; St. Paul, Minnesota; and more than a dozen other cities across the U.S. Activists will also blast the company on social media, blitz the company’s phone lines, demand change on Yelp, and more.

PETA Starbucks Week of Action

Update (June 16, 2022): After spending over an hour superglued to the café counter at a downtown Chicago Starbucks to make the point that the company needs to stop discouraging people from taking animal- and Earth-friendly action by charging extra for vegan milks, two PETA supporters, including a Buddhist monk in traditional robes, were arrested and are being charged with criminal trespassing.

Update (May 23, 2022): New PETA billboards featuring Sir Paul McCartney are going up during his national tour at prominent locations in New Jersey, New York City, Seattle, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They urge Starbucks to end its unethical surcharge for vegan milk, a request the pop legend also made in a letter to former Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

peta paul mccartney starbucks vegan milk billboard

In addition, PETA will be joining Sir Paul on his tour, bringing along information about our Starbucks campaign and other animal rights issues.

peta tables at paul mccartney concert

Update (May 10, 2022): PETA’s campaign calling on Starbucks to stop charging customers extra for vegan milks kicked into high gear today, when Succession star and PETA Honorary Director James Cromwell superglued his hand to the café counter at a New York City Starbucks location. Police arrived to shut down the store.

“My friends at PETA and I are calling on Starbucks to stop punishing kind and environmentally conscious customers for choosing plant milks. 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.”

—James Cromwell

James Cromwell superglue Starbucks protest

As Cromwell points out, the dairy industry is a major producer of the greenhouse gases that contribute to the climate catastrophe and is responsible for immense animal suffering. Cows used for dairy are artificially inseminated—workers insert an arm into the animals’ rectum and a metal rod to deliver semen into their vagina—and then sent to slaughter when their bodies give out.

James Cromwell superglue Starbucks protest

Update (May 2, 2022): On May 1, members of PETA and Animal Rights Initiative (ARI) protested outside Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s lakeside gated community, calling him out for charging customers extra for animal-friendly vegan milk. The company gave former Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson a $60 million payout when he stepped down in March, which alone could have offset nearly 86 million 70-cent vegan milk upcharges.

starbucks campaign demoRight: © Laurren Ashleigh of Animal Rights Initiative

Starbucks’ upcharge for vegan milk is also under attack for penalizing those who are lactose intolerant and those prescribed a low-cholesterol diet. This marked PETA and ARI’s 99th consecutive day of protesting Starbucks’ vegan upcharge in Seattle. Keep reading to learn more about these daily sit-ins, including the time two PETA supporters were arrested after supergluing their hands to the café counter at Starbucks’ headquarters.

Update (April 20, 2022): With Earth Day nearly here—and because Starbucks agrees that animal-friendly vegan milks are better for the planet yet continues to charge customers extra for them—two climate and animal rights activists have superglued their hands to the café counter at Starbucks’ headquarters, chanting, “Save the planet, save the cows, stop the plant milk upcharge!” This action is an escalation of PETA’s campaign that’s urging Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to address the company’s hypocritical stance. Check out the livestream footage:

@jeffrogersphotography

@jeffrogersphotography

Two of the activists involved in the Starbucks protest were arrested and are facing felony charges for their supergluing deed.

PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman weighed in, saying this:

Starbucks’ Earth Day promotions are nothing but hot air if it’s still charging extra for Earth- and animal-friendly vegan options. PETA will stick to Starbucks like glue until it agrees to drop the vegan upcharge.

Ashley Byrne, PETA’s director of outreach, communications, appeared on Jesse Watters Primetime, where, in addition to discussing the buzzed-about supergluing stunt, she commended the FOX News commentator—who proudly admitted he is “eating a lot of salads recently” and having falafel instead of chicken—for eating more plant-based foods:

“A lot of people are switching to more plant-based options,” Byrne acknowledged to Watters. Yet Starbucks—a company that pretends to champion social causes while levying a surcharge that harms cows, the planet, and those who are lactose intolerant, most of whom are people of color—continues to penalize customers who want to make the switch.

Keep reading to learn more about the daily sit-ins PETA and Animal Rights Initiative supporters have held at Starbucks’ headquarters every day since January, pointing out that the dairy industry is a major producer of the greenhouse gases that contribute to the climate catastrophe and is responsible for immense animal suffering. Plus, see how you can join in on the action.

Update (April 6, 2022): As new Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz started his first day on the job, PETA supporters joined Animal Rights Initiative (ARI) for a spirited demonstration in Seattle. Udderly fed-up “cows” stood inside the company’s headquarters with signs explaining that the dairy industry is a leading cause of the climate catastrophe, and PETA supporters outside encouraged passersby to tell Starbucks to ditch the surcharge for dairy-free milk. The protest marked the 72nd consecutive day that our friends from ARI were at the coffee giant’s home base—and they have no plans to stop any time soon.

two PETA supporters in cow costumes urge Starbucks to drop the vegan milk surcharge©Animal Rights Initiative (ARI)/ Laurren Ashleigh

In international news, Starbucks in France dropped its vegan milk fee at the majority of its locations, in the U.K. it dropped the vegan surcharge for all plant-based milks in January 2022, and in China, India, and elsewhere it offers at least one dairy-free option at no extra charge.

Starbucks in the U.S. must stop milking people for extra cash when they’re making the compassionate choice to drink vegan milk!

Update (March 30, 2022): Ahead of Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s upcoming retirement on April 4, Sir Paul McCartney sent a letter to the outgoing exec, urging him to take the coffee giant’s problematic vegan milk surcharge out the door with him as he leaves the company.

Sir Paul on Surcharge: Starbucks, End Fee for Plant Milks

“My friends at PETA are campaigning for this,” wrote McCartney. “I sincerely hope that for the future of the planet and animal welfare you are able to implement this policy.”

Sir Paul McCartney writes letter to Starbucks on behalf of cows© 2007 MPL Communications Ltd./Max Vadukul

Earlier this year, Starbucks in the U.K. dropped its vegan milk surcharge, and the chain already offers dairy-free options at no extra charge in China, India, and elsewhere.

Update (March 16, 2022): PETA caused a stir during Starbucks’ annual meeting by calling out the company for being all talk and no action. We pointed out that the CEO himself—Kevin Johnson—has claimed that Starbucks wants to “give more than [it takes] from the planet,” but if that were really the case, the company would incentivize consuming animal- and environmentally friendly vegan milks by not charging extra for them.

Producing cow’s milk generates around three times more greenhouse-gas emissions and uses nine times more land than vegan options do. It takes 628 liters of water to make 1 liter of cow’s milk—oat or soy milk requires 90% less water.

“Starbucks claims to value ‘challenging the status quo and … holding ourselves accountable.’ Words have to mean something.”
—From PETA’s question to Starbucks at its annual meeting

PETA supporters also joined Animal Rights Initiative (ARI) in a spirited demonstration outside Starbucks’ headquarters in Seattle, where ARI has been holding sit-ins for over a month. Activists dressed as cows took center stage, drenched themselves in fake blood, and performed as a mother cow mourning the abduction of her baby—which is a reality for mother cows, whose calves are torn away by the dairy industry.

Update (March 2, 2022): Because Starbucks agrees that animal-friendly vegan milks are better for the planet yet continues to charge extra for them, PETA and Animal Rights Initiative (ARI) supporters have descended on the café at Starbucks headquarters every single day since January 23—and they don’t plan to stop until the company agrees to end the vegan milk upcharge that punishes environmentally conscious consumers and cows and their calves.

‘Dead Calf’ at Starbucks? PETA Challenges Vegan Upcharge

A protester caused a ruckus outside a Starbucks location in Florida following reports that the chain had dropped its dairy-free milk surcharge in the U.K. but will continue to charge extra in the U.S.

Update (December 23, 2021): Christmas came early for Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson when PETA’s little helpers delivered a heaping pile of coal and a letter of admonishment to his door. The bold stunt was a reminder to the company that until it stops penalizing customers who care about animals, their own health, and the environment, it will remain on PETA’s naughty list.

An activist stands above a pile of coal with a sign with a cow that read 'I am Suffering'

Update (December 9, 2021): A mock website called out Starbucks for claiming to be committed to inclusion and diversity while still charging extra for nondairy milk—something that PETA has been challenging the company on for years, in light of the dairy industry’s cruelty to cows and people’s concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions and their own health. PETA is cheering on these pranksters—who are apparently from the group Switch4Good—and their hoax news release (which took the internet by storm and even had multiple outlets reporting on it before realizing that it was all a ruse) for spilling the beans about Starbucks, which claims to champion social causes while imposing a surcharge that harms cows, the planet, and those who are lactose intolerant—most of whom are people of color.

Hey, Starbucks: Recognize this prank as a wake-up call from the public and drop the upcharge, before any other tricksters roast you for your hypocrisy.

Update (May 25, 2021): To remind Starbucks and its customers of the cruelty that goes into drinks made with cow’s milk, PETA protesters placed an extremely lifelike “bloody calf” prop stuffed inside a giant Starbucks cup outside one of its locations in Charleston, South Carolina.

DeCALF Your Coffee! PETA Protests Starbucks’ Vegan Milk Surcharge

In South Carolina, PETA protesters called on Starbucks to price vegan milks at or below the cost of cow’s milk, since the chain agrees that animal-friendly milks are better for the planet.

Update (March 17, 2021): In Seattle, PETA delivered a one-two punch to Starbucks over its refusal to end its surcharge on vegan milks. Protesters descended on the company’s headquarters with a life-size prop of a “dead calf” in a pool of “blood” inside a Starbucks cup while PETA representatives attended the chain’s virtual annual meeting to point out that even though Starbucks knows that animal-friendly vegan milks are better for the planet, it has refused to put its money where its mouth is.

PETA’s ‘Dead Calf’ Protests Starbucks’ Vegan Milk Upcharge

PETA members caused a stir outside Starbucks’ headquarters in Seattle to call on the chain to stop penalizing customers who care about animals and the environment.

Update (March 1, 2021): PETA Honorary Director Alan Cumming joined PETA’s campaign by writing to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, following Johnson’s admission at an investor meeting that the demand for vegan products is the “most dominant shift” in consumer demand. The letter urged Starbucks to drop the upcharge on vegan milks, noting that the dairy industry produces huge amounts of greenhouse gases and that manure from dairy farms contaminates waterways and creates dead zones in the ocean where no life can survive.

“The most responsible move would be to stop selling cow’s milk altogether. But at the very least, you can end the upcharge on vegan milk that penalizes customers who are making the humane, environmentally friendly choice, along with those who are lactose intolerant—most of whom are people of color.”
—Alan Cumming

Other chains, including Costa Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Wawa, and Panera Bread, don’t charge extra for vegan milk—it’s time for Starbucks to get the memo.

Update (January 29, 2021): After Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson acknowledged that vegan milk is “a big part of the solution” in reducing the company’s carbon footprint, PETA’s “climate change cow” hand-delivered a letter to the company’s Seattle headquarters calling out Johnson and his disingenuous pledge to make changes to benefit the environment. If the coffee chain is really serious about reducing its carbon footprint, it should walk the walk and drop the vegan surcharge immediately.

For Customers to Ditch Dairy, Starbucks Must Act, Too

Update (March 18, 2020): After PETA bought stock in Starbucks to push for change from the boardroom, Clueless actor and PETA Honorary Director Alicia Silverstone joined Starbucks’ virtual annual meeting to ask the company to stop charging extra for nondairy milks.

“When will Starbucks put its money where its mouth is and remove the barrier to customers choosing climate-, health-, and animal-friendly vegan options by dropping the surcharge on nondairy milk?”
—Alicia Silverstone

Update (Janaury 23, 2020): During PETA’s Week of Action against Starbucks—when supporters occupied Starbucks locations across the U.S. and Canada to protest the chain’s vegan milk upcharge—the chain announced that it would add more vegan menu options and push customers to ditch dairy to combat the climate catastrophe.

“Alternative milks will be a big part of the solution. The consumer-demand curve is already shifting,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in an interview.

While we’re all for pushing vegan choices, we have a news flash for the coffee chain: The ball is in its court. Vegans, environmentalists, people with lactose intolerance, and other customers have been urging Starbucks to eliminate its dairy-free milk surcharge since the chain began offering vegan milk years ago.

According to reports, Starbucks plans to lower the cost of adding vegan milk to its handcrafted drinks, but that’s not enough—to join the fight against the climate crisis in earnest, the chain must nix the upcharge entirely. By calling on its customers to choose vegan milk while continuing to charge extra for vegan milk (while allowing additions of dairy milk for free), Starbucks appears to be using the climate crisis to make more money.

Update (November 15, 2019): On the day when the largest Starbucks location in the world opened its doors in Chicago, PETA supporters marked the occasion by sitting outside the store all day with posters proclaiming, “Soy Milk Surcharge Sux.”

Protesters pointed out that Starbucks’ extra charge for dairy-free milk punishes those who are lactose intolerant—most of whom are people of color—and anyone who simply wants to reduce methane-gas emissions or opposes cruelty to cows.

What Does Dairy Have to Do With the Climate Catastrophe?

An environmental assessment revealed that Starbucks reportedly found that dairy-based items are the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions across its operations and supply chain. This isn’t surprising, considering that the production of dairy is to blame for a significant percentage of planet-warming emissions.

The most significant thing that you can do to combat the climate crisis is to go vegan.

And what makes it so easy to be vegan is accessibility—unless you frequent a Starbucks. Visit a Noah’s New York Bagels, Philz Coffee, or Costa Coffee and you can get dairy-free milk in your drinks for free! At Dunkin’, you can get a breakfast sandwich with Beyond Meat “sausage.” Visit a Starbucks, however, and you’ll be forced to pay upwards of 80 cents for vegan milk in your handcrafted drink—and vegan food choices there are very limited. So while Starbucks puts pressure on its customers to ditch dairy, we’ll continue to put pressure on the company to end its unfair vegan milk surcharge.

Bigotry begins when categories such as race, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or species are used to justify discrimination.

Urge Starbucks to Wake Up and Smell the Cruelty

Remind Starbucks that soy, oat, and nut milks shouldn’t cost a cent more than their dairy counterparts, which are cruel to cows, contribute to climate change, and are indigestible to many humans:

Why stop at coffee creamer? Whether your goals include being healthier, showing animals more kindness, or saving the planet, living vegan is the only way to go. And you won’t believe how doable it is! Click on the link below to get started on your journey of compassion.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind