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Starbucks is finally dropping its surcharge for plant-based milk in the UK — but US customers will still have to pay extra

Starbucks is dropping its surcharge for plant-based milk in the UK.

Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

  • Starbucks UK is scrapping its £0.40 ($0.54) extra charge for drinks made with non-dairy milk.
  • But Starbucks customers in the US will still have to pay extra for plant-based milk.
  • The chain is under pressure from activists including PETA to ditch the surcharge.

Starbucks is dropping its surcharge for non-dairy milk in the UK, but customers in the US will still have to pay extra if they want soy, oat, almond, or coconut milk.

Starbucks announced on Tuesday that it would be scrapping the extra charge from January 5 at all 1,020 of its UK stores.

The coffee chain offers five non-dairy milks in the UK – oat, soy, almond, and coconut, alongside its own Nut Blend, which is made from hazelnuts and cashew nuts and was specially designed to be paired with Starbucks’ espresso. These milks currently incur a £0.40 ($0.54) surcharge for each drink they’re added to, apart from soy milk, which is available for free.

Starbucks non-dairy milk surchargeApart from soy milk, which is free, non-dairy milks currently incur a £0.40 ($0.54) surcharge for each Starbucks drink they’re added to.

Grace Dean/

“With customization at Starbucks core, this latest menu change will provide increased personalization options and make it even easier for customers to choose whichever dairy alternative or milk they prefer, all year round,” the company said in a press release.

Starbucks US has served soy milk since 1997, coconut milk since 2015, and almond milk since 2016. It added oat milk to its mix this March.

A Starbucks spokesperson told Insider that the chain wasn’t making any changes to its vegan milk surcharge in the US, the price of which varies between markets but generally incurs a $0.70 upcharge.

Customers in the US will still have to pay extra if they want soy, oat, almond, or coconut milk, although they can add a splash to a brewed coffee, iced coffee, Cold Brew, or Americano for free.

Pressure has been mounting on restaurants, including Starbucks, to scrap their extra charges for non-dairy milk. Many activists, including animal-rights group PETA, have cited the ethical and environmental implications of the dairy industry.

Earlier this month, Switch4Good and The Yes Men sent a fake press release to reporters, claiming the chain was ending the surcharge to fight “dietary racism,” in recognition of the fact that lactose intolerance disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

More European consumers are choosing to ditch dairy

Starbucks also announced on Tuesday that it was adding a plant-based tuna sandwich to its UK menu, marking its first plant-based fish alternative. It’s also adding three new oat milk-based lattes – strawberry and vanilla, honey and hazelnut, and dark cocoa and orange.

The day after Starbucks announced it was lifting the plant-based milk surcharge, UK-based Starbucks rival Costa Coffee also said it would offer free non-dairy milk to its loyalty app users.

Costa Coffee non-dairy milkCosta Coffee is also offering free non-dairy milk to app users.

Grace Dean/Insider

Northern Europe is generally seen as the world leader in plant-based food, and even some US companies have debuted vegan versions of popular products in Europe before launching them in their domestic markets. This includes Domino’s pizza with dairy-free cheese and Starbucks’ fully vegan Pumpkin Spiced Latte, both available in the UK. 

John Schoolcraft, global chief creative officer at Swedish oatmilk brand Oatly, previously told Insider that European consumers have a better understanding of the climate crisis. He said they are reducing their meat and dairy consumption because of the industries’ impacts on this. Eating a more plant-based diet is “becoming mainstream,” he added.

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