Starbucks Refreshers Are A Lie, Lawsuit Claims

A new class action lawsuit claims Starbucks' fruity iced drinks mislead the public.

Around this time of year, the main topic of discussion around Starbucks is usually the iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte or its overall fall menu. However, a class action lawsuit against Starbucks just got the green light to proceed, and its placing the chain's menu of fruity Refreshers beverages under the microscope, Reuters reports.

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The lawsuit was initially filed back in August 2022, at which point Starbucks challenged the claims of the filing and moved to have them dismissed. However, a federal judge has rejected Starbucks' request and instead ruled that the company must face all 11 claims brought against it.

The Starbucks Refreshers lawsuit, explained

The main allegation being brought against Starbucks is that its Refreshers drinks do not contain the actual fruit mentioned in each of their names. The lawsuit calls out the fact that "the Mango Dragonfruit and Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade Refreshers contain no mango, the Pineapple Passionfruit and Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade Refreshers contain no passionfruit, and the Strawberry Acai and Strawberry Acai Lemonade Refreshers contain no acai." All of the drinks are made from a base that includes some combination of water, grape juice concentrate, and sugar, among other ingredients.

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The lawsuit claims that the names of the beverages are misleading, and customers were charged a premium for drinks they thought actually contained those ingredients in some form. In its attempt to dismiss the allegations, Starbucks argued that the name of the drink indicates the flavor of the beverage, not its actual ingredients. The company further argued that "reasonable consumers" would not be confused by this, and anyone who was could ask a barista to clarify.

U.S. District Judge John Cronan did not agree with Starbucks' interpretation of the reasonable consumer standard, saying "a significant portion of reasonable consumers" would expect the drinks to contain those fruits. The judge further explained that even more confusion could stem from the fact that other Starbucks drinks do in fact contain the ingredients in their names, such as the Iced Matcha Tea Latte or the Honey Citrus Mint Tea.

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The judge did dismiss a fraud claim against Starbucks, noting there was no proof Starbucks intended to defraud consumers, as well as an unjust enrichment claim. The class action lawsuit alleges Starbucks' actions are equal to $5 million in damages and demands a trial by jury.

Starbucks depends on its cold drinks

Despite its reputation as a coffee chain, much of Starbucks' success does come from its cold beverages. In the fourth quarter of 2022, Starbucks' interim Chief Executive Officer said cold coffee beverages accounted for 76% of total beverage sales in its U.S. company-operated stores. And throughout that same fourth-quarter report, multiple members of the brand's leadership team emphasized the significant growth seen in all of its cold beverage categories, including Refreshers, Nitro Cold Brew, and others.

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With this case, Starbucks joins other major chains fighting legal battles against false advertising claims. Arby's, Taco Bell, and Burger King are all currently tied up in cases regarding the amount of beef in their actual products, compared to how those products appear in ads. In a statement to Reuters, Starbucks said it was looking forward to defending itself in this case, which it deemed "without merit." But, like so many lawsuits against major food and drink manufacturers, that'll be up to the mythical "reasonable consumer" to decide.

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