Starbucks finds itself facing a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges the coffee titan has engaged in a “classic bait-and-switch scheme” with regard to the amounts of espresso and caffeine in some of its larger (and pricier) Venti-sized drinks.
The 19-page complaint out of California claims that while Starbucks customers who buy Venti-sized espresso beverages believe they’ll be receiving more espresso and caffeine given the larger drink size and higher price, they, in truth, are getting the same amount of espresso and caffeine as the smaller, cheaper Grande drink size.
The lawsuit argues that consumers would not have paid more to buy certain Venti-sized Starbucks drinks had they known they were being effectively shorted on espresso and caffeine.
“This misleading practice offends reasonable consumer expectations,” the case reads.
More Bang for Your Buck?
The lawsuit contests that consumers have come to reasonably expect that a larger drink size will contain more product than a smaller option. At Starbucks, the case says, consumers expect that they’ll get more espresso and caffeine in, say, a Grande beverage—the medium, 16 fl. oz. size—than they would in a Tall beverage, the small, 12 fl. oz. size. With this thinking, the suit claims, Starbucks’ largest hot drink size—the Venti—should reasonably contain triple the amount of espresso and caffeine of a Tall beverage.
As the suit tells it, however, although the espresso and caffeine content is bumped up proportionately between a Tall (small) and a Grande (medium), the same is not the case with the Grande and the Venti.
Starbucks offers many Venti-sized drinks that do not contain more espresso, and therefore higher caffeine content, than a Grande-sized beverage, according to the suit. The company applies this practice to everything from its Pumpkin Spice Latte and Flat White drinks to its macchiato and cappuccino beverages, the suit says.
Demonstrating the alleged bait-and-switch in action, the complaint says that a standard Starbucks Grande (medium) Caffe Latte, made with just milk and espresso, contains 150 mg of caffeine, or “precisely double the amount of the Tall.” A Venti size of the same beverage, the suit claims, also contains 150 mg of caffeine. In this scenario, the case elaborates, a customer will essentially pay more money for merely four ounces of additional milk.
“No reasonable, informed consumer would do so,” the suit argues.
Customers Unaware They’re Being Shorted on Caffeine, Lawsuit Claims
The plaintiff claims that Starbucks fails to “make any effort” to inform consumers that the amounts of espresso and caffeine in certain Venti beverages are not what they’d reasonably expect. The case argues that “nowhere on Starbucks in-store or drive-thru menus” are customers informed of the accurate espresso and caffeine content for the drinks in the table below. Though customers can in fact request that a drink comes with a little extra espresso, an additional “shot” comes at an added cost, the lawsuit notes.
“Indeed, at the time of ordering,” the case says, “customers are sometimes informed they have the option to add another ‘shot’ of espresso to each drink for an additional price, further reinforcing the reasonable belief that Venti-sized Products contain more espresso/caffeine than their Grande-sized equivalents."
For the following products, the lawsuit alleges, the amounts of espresso and caffeine do not vary depending on whether a medium or large is ordered:
The proposed class action further claims the apparent bait-and-switch tactic does not apply to the iced versions of certain Starbucks beverages. The iced versions of the products in the chart above “do increase in espresso and caffeine content from Grande to Venti,” the lawsuit says, adding that customers have thusly come to expect the same between medium- and large-sized hot drinks.
Relaying the plaintiff’s alleged experience, the case says the woman bought a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte from a San Clemente, California Starbucks in November 2019 that she believed would contain more coffee or espresso and therefore more caffeine due to its larger size. The woman argues in the complaint that in reality, however, she paid $5.45 for a “watered-down” Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte that contained “the exact same amount of espresso and caffeine as the Grande size.”
The woman asserts that she would not have bought the drink had she known she would be shorted on espresso and caffeine content. According to the lawsuit, few considerations are more paramount to a Starbucks customer than the amount of espresso and caffeine within a particular beverage.
“Defendant’s advertising claim that the Products contained more espresso, and therefore, more caffeine, was not only a material factor, but also the only factor in influencing Plaintiff’s decision to purchase the Product,” the case says, alleging that Starbucks has willfully falsely and deceptively advertised certain Venti-sized espresso drinks.
Which Consumers Are Covered by this Lawsuit?
The complaint looks to represent consumers in California who bought select Starbucks Venti-sized espresso drinks for personal consumption during a to-be-determined statute of limitations period.