Starbucks Frappuccino Under Attack in Mayor's Sugary-Drink Crackdown

By Jill Colvin on June 1, 2012 6:50am 

ASTOR PLACE — The city's proposed ban on jumbo-sized sugary sodas could put the freeze on many a New Yorker's morning fix — a large Starbucks Frappuccino.

Caffeine-addicted New Yorkers were steaming mad Thursday over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban sugar-sweetened beverages over 16 ounces, including large Cokes at Yankee Stadium.

But what made some people's cups run over was the threat placed on another hometown favorite — Starbucks' sugary treat.

Bloomberg's plan wouldn't cover large beverages that contain more than 51 percent milk, because dairy is considered to have redeeming nutritional value. While several administration officials said they believed Frappuccinos would likely be spared because the coffee concoctions hit the dairy quota, Starbucks employees disagreed.

“There’s very, very little [milk in them],” said one barista at Astor Place. “Definitely not half,” she said, pointing to a marker about a half-inch up the cup.

The news had many Frappuccino fans fuming.

“I think that's horrible,” said Eileen Ko, a 20-year-old student from Queens, as she was walking around Astor Place.

"Frappuccinos are what makes the summer the summer. Without them, life would suck."

“I think he’s just gone way overboard with the whole cutting out the sugar thing,” agreed Mildred Payne, another Frappuccino devotee, between sips of her mocha cookie crumble frap.

“I do understand that we have an obesity problem, but there comes a time when the government simply should stand aside and let us do what we have to do," she said. “Stepping in and telling us what to drink, large drink, whatever is just not right.”

The Frappuccino, whose trademarked name was invented by Starbucks, is a blend of ice, milk and flavorings such as toffee nut syrup, usually topped with whipped cream. The most popular version, the caramel Frappuccino, packs 64 grams of sugar — the equivalent of almost three Hersey bars.

Bloomberg’s plan, which could be implemented as early as this March, would bar restaurants, fast food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and even food carts from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces — smaller than a standard bottle of soda.

The Bloomberg administration provided this illustration of how much sugar is in the typical soda.
The Bloomberg administration provided this illustration of how much sugar is in the typical soda.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

The move is intended to curb the rising tide of obesity, which Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said is closely linked to the consumption of empty calories in sodas and other drinks.

“We think it’s an especially important target in obesity reduction," he said.

The proposed soda rules are fraught with apparent contradictions. Big Gulp sodas and super-sized Slurpees at convenience stores like 7-Eleven that can pack upwards of 700 calories each are okay, while a large, sweetened Starbucks tea, at 200 calories (with non-fat milk), is not.

The same 20-ounce bottle of Coke would be allowed for sale in a bodega or a grocery store with a deli section, but would be banned from sale inside a city-defined deli, even on similar grocery shelves in the back.

That’s because the city would need Albany’s permission to ban products in grocery stores, which are regulated by the state. Rules governing the city's restaurants, delis and concession stands can be changed by the Board of Health.

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said that, while he expects criticism, especially from the beverage industry, he expects people to eventually embrace the regulations, just like the ban on smoking in city restaurants and bars.

“I think people will come to see this as very much in the interest of public health,” he said, adding that he also expects the idea to start a nationwide trend, which could trigger an industry-wide change in package sizing.

“I suspect that in five years, or 10 years, you’re going to have people going up to this mayor of the city and saying, ‘Thank you for doing that. This is what helped me lose weight and save my life,'” he said.

Starbucks did not immediately respond to requests for clarification about which menu items would be banned, but said the company has “developed an extensive portfolio of products” that includes beverages without sugar and sugar-free syrups.

“As Starbucks offers more than 170,000 ways to customize your beverage, we believe many of our beverages would fall outside of the proposed ban,” a Starbucks company spokeswoman said.

The Bloomberg administration does not intend to consult the City Council, which Wolfson was quick to point out had been critical of the city’s restaurant letter grading system before later embracing the plan.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is widely seen as an ally of the mayor, said she was concerned by the idea.

“It seems punitive and I worry that in the end, this proposal won't yield a positive result,” she said, stressing that, when it comes to fighting obesity, knowledge and healthy available options were key.

“Limiting people's choices is not about knowledge, empowerment or access,” she said.

The plan is also drawing fire from companies that would be forced to retool menus and shuffle stock.

“Public health issues cannot be effectively addressed through a narrowly-focused and misguided ban. This is a complex topic, and one that requires a more collaborative and comprehensive approach,” McDonald’s said in a statement, noting that the company offers numerous low-calorie menu items.

“We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them,” the said.

The New York City Beverage Association also railed against what it called an “unhealthy
obsession with attacking soft drinks.”

“These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front,” they said.

Other residents agreed.

“It’s definitely not anyone’s business to monitor people’s obesity,” said Adele Johns, 19, another Starbucks devotee who lives in Tribeca.

Others were more blunt.

“He disgusts me,” said Nick, a Starbucks customer who declined to give his last name, referring to the mayor.

“I drink four coffees a day with probably three packets of sugar and I'd like Mike Bloomberg to take off his shirt and stand next to me and see who looks better,” said the 33-year-old health care worker between sips on a sweetened Venti iced coffee with milk.

But Kate Rube, who works at a non-profit, sided with the mayor.

“I think the ban is a good idea. I personally don’t drink a lot of large beverages but I think, in general, we've had portion sizes get really large in this country over time,” said Rube, 32, adding that the obesity epidemic is both expensive and harmful to the country.

“I think things that we can do to help people make healthier choices is a good thing,” she said.

Mildred Payne said the city plan to stamp out venti Frappuccinos  is "way overboard."
Mildred Payne said the city plan to stamp out venti Frappuccinos is "way overboard."
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

With reporting by Tuan Nguyen

How the Ban Will Affect You:

New Yorkers may be going into sugar shock over the proposed city ban on super-sized sodas, but some are confused about where they can and can't indulge.

DNAinfo.com New York has the breakdown of where the city's ban on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks larger than 16 oz. would apply.

The restriction will apply to all Food Service Establishments, including:

• Restaurants

• Coffee Shops

• Fast Food Counters

• Movie Theater Concession Stands

• Stadium and Arena Concession Stands

• Food Carts

• Delis

A good way to tell whether a location in affected is to check whether it receives a letter health inspection grade from the city’s Health Department.

Size restrictions will also apply to mobile food carts that are not yet graded by the city.

At those locations:

•  All sugar-sweetened sodas over 16 ounces will be banned.

•  Cups larger than 16 ounces will be banned at self-service soda fountains, even if a customer wants a diet option. Unlimited refills would still be allowed.

Still allowed, at any size:

•  Low-calorie drinks that contain less than 25 calories per 8 ounces, including diet sodas, teas and fruit drinks.

•  Unsweetened coffees and teas.

•  Drinks that are at least 70 percent fruit or vegetable juice.

• Dairy drinks that contain at least 51 percent milk or milk substitute by volume, including milkshakes and sweetened lattes.

• Alcoholic drinks

Customers who want to purchase more than 16 ounces of a sugary drink will still be able to purchase more than one or refill their cups.

The restrictions will NOT apply to grocery stores, convenience stores or bodegas, including Slurpees and Big Gulps at 7-Eleven.

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