The non-dairy alternative may still come with a surcharge, for now.

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
December 10, 2020
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At this point, non-dairy milk alternatives are par for the course at most coffee shops across the country. But as the plant-based product movement—which includes everything from burgers and chicken to ice cream—continues to grow, small and large coffee sellers alike may take some time to catch onto the latest mix-in trend or innovation. Such is the case with oat milk, which has popped up in recent years as a flavorful and more froth-friendly option for baristas. And this week, industry heavyweight Starbucks announced it will finally offer oat milk at stores nationwide beginning next year.

Credit: Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

"Following a successful regional rollout across the United States, Starbucks will launch oatmilk in all stores in the U.S. this coming Spring 2021," the brand's announcement states. The news was released as part of an update on the company's sustainability efforts which include diversifying its energy sources and 50-percent waste and carbon emission reductions and water reuse by 2030. Starbucks is also making an additional $50 million investment in an existing program to help coffee farmers grow and harvest their crops more sustainably, and supporting net-zero emissions dairy farming.

But currently, those looking to reduce their dairy still face an increased cost at Starbucks stores, with the chain charging as much as 80 cents for a milk replacement. "Alternative milks cost more than dairy, and we as a company experience something very similar to what a customer would experience when purchasing a non-dairy product in their local grocery store," a Starbucks spokesperson explained to Food & Wine. And, they pointed out, that charge only applies mostly to handcrafted espresso-and-milk beverages. "Adding a splash of any alternative milk to Brewed Coffee, Iced Coffee, Cold Brew and Americano beverages is offered free of charge."

However, that non-dairy surcharge practice may be on the outs altogether. “We expect costs [of non-dairy milk] to come down as the supply chain for plant-based options matures and we will pass this onto our customers," Starbucks chief operating office Roz Brewer said at an annual shareholder meeting back in March, according to VegNews. "We will watch this carefully.”

For its part, Starbucks' biggest competitor, Dunkin', beat the Seattle-based coffee giant to the punch rolling out oat milk nationwide in August of this year. And Dunkin' is also encroaching on Starbucks' turf in other ways, including offering a colorful purple Sugarplum Macchiato this holiday season.