Latte Inflation! When Sugar Costs 50 Cents at Starbucks

I am not ashamed to admit that I occasionally put sugar in my espresso and lattes (I prefer real filter coffee unadulterated). But I must admit a moral repulsion at the notion of paying extra to add any type of sweetness, especially given weakness in the overall sugar market. As you can tell from the chart below, the price of sugar has been a state of general decline in the past 12 months, with likely no near-term bottom in site (for you chartist types) based on trending data.

Sugar Prices (Source: World Bank and Index Mundi)

sugar prices

Earlier this morning, paying no heed to declining sugar prices, my local barista at Starbucks asked me if I’d like any sweetener in a latte that I was generously fetching for my wife on the way back from taking the kids to school. I told her to add two sugars to the brew, and she politely asked if their syrup was OK, as they no longer could put in sugar packets. I told her to go ahead.

A few seconds later, when paying for the drink, another person at the cash register proceeded to add a 50 cents surcharge for the simple syrup. When questioned, she admitted that they no longer add sugar packets even when asked politely, but are happy to add syrup – and charge for the honor of doing so (although that piece was not volunteered).

Perhaps this is not a new policy at Starbucks – I’m not a daily or even regular customer, nor do I typically add sugar to filter coffee, my preferred drink – but the way it was handled without any notification of an upcharge for the same effect of sweetening a coffee flies in the face of customer service. Not to mention the broader trend in falling sugar prices in the market!

Shame on you Starbucks for not being more transparent in your pricing and changing policy without telling customers that an “alternative” approach to accomplishing the same means could increase the cost of a drink 15% or more. For that price, I’m more than happy to put in my own packets. I know for a fact if Starbucks' own suppliers engaged in similar activity that they would not last long.

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