An Open Letter to Coffeehouses Who Charge for Soy Milk …

Would you like an upcharge with your soy (or almond or coconut or hemp) latte? No, thank you. Enough is enough.


Dear Beloved Coffee Haunts,

I am so grateful that many of you offer soy, almond, coconut, or even macadamia nut milk for my morning cuppa. Because of you, gone are the dark days when vegans were forced to sip our morning mud black or lug cartons of non-dairy milk in our purses, apologetically asking the barista to top our beverages with a few frothed ounces. But while I appreciate the array of vegan options you’ve added the past several years, I can’t help but wonder why I’m charged an additional 60¢ for my preferred milk when the stuff from a cow is free.

A decade ago, maybe carrying soy milk did cost stores more than cow’s milk, but today—when soy foods are a $4.5 billion industry in the US—to say nothing of the exploding almond milk sector—does a splash of non-dairy milk really cost you that much extra? Seriously, Caribou Coffee, it cannot cost 80¢ more for you to pour an ounce of almond milk into my brew, so why should I have to pay 47 percent more for my small coffee to enjoy some creamy comfort?

The numbers suggest that non-dairy milk alternatives cost roughly the same as cow’s milk today. At Walmart, WestSoy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk is 6.2¢ per fluid ounce ($3.98/half gallon), Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Original Almond Milk (the brand Dunkin’ Donuts uses) is 6.8¢ per fluid ounce ($2.18/quart), and So Delicious Original Coconut Milk Beverage is 6.3¢ per fluid ounce ($2/quart). In June 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average price of a gallon of non-organic whole milk was 2.6¢ per fluid ounce ($3.37/gallon). If a large latte uses 14 fluid ounces of milk, the average price difference between an organic soy latte and a non-organic cow’s milk latte is 50¢ per cup. Considering the fact that many stores have a flat upcharge for non-dairy milk, whether in a large latte or a small Americano (I called many chains that reported this practice is policy, even is some baristas sneak you free soy milk after you pay), I can’t help but think that you’re taking advantage of vegans’ excitement regarding these options.

I’m the first to admit my calculations are not perfect; maybe your costs (plus labor and transportation) look very different from my estimations. But if the market price of cow’s milk and cruelty-free milks are so comparable, isn’t it hypothetically possible that you find a way to eliminate or equalize the upcharges for milks in your stores?

This extra fee might not seem like much for you, but it means a lot to me and my vegan counterparts. Did you know that 52 percent of US herbivores (including myself) are between the ages of 16 and 24? Maybe you forgot, but this is a time when most of our cash flows are as dry as Larry David’s humor. What little money I do have goes to essentials such as laundry, used BJ Novak books, and guacamole. I’m not saying I need to get coffee every day or that I do, but if both my non-vegan friend and I were to so indulge, she would spend approximately $18 less than I did, which is enough money to wash and dry her laundry for a month.

By the way, independent coffee stores, I’m especially disappointed in you. I have no idea where Dunkin’ Donuts, Gloria Jean’s, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, or Starbucks source its milks, but I know you buy your almond milk from the same aisle as I do in the grocery store. I can see the price you pay and the price you make me pay later. I always try to support you, and I thought that relationship was reciprocal.

That said, chains, you aren’t a savior, either. Many of you are franchised anyway, so your individual location’s owner decides how much to charge for all of your products, including milks, which makes me think you have more control over the price of soy lattes than you disclose.

The upcharge is a bummer because even though I love wheatgrass shots and kombucha-on-tap like every other responsible vegan, I’m also a coffee addict like the rest of the country. I will gladly pay the penny extra for the ounce of soy milk I splash into my Americano (actually, it’s 8¢, but keep the change), and I’ll even shell out the 22¢ for a large dairy-free latte if you insist on nickel-and-diming me. But this policy alienates more patrons than you think: cow’s milk consumption has been declining since 1970 in the US, so it’s not just vegans and lactose-intolerant customers spending all their laundry quarters on your drinks. I promise your customer base will dump sports drink on your heads and let you crowd surf on us as we line up for our morning brews if you find the generosity in your hearts to skip the 60¢ upcharge on the latte we can already barely afford. I’ll come in every day and buy vegan croissants, too.

Krispy Kreme and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, at least you don’t charge me extra for non-dairy milk. You can’t, since you don’t offer non-dairy milk nationally, but that’s pretty great because now you have the opportunity to introduce dairy-free milks at no additional cost from the very beginning and be a pioneer. So let’s do it.

Love and lattés,

Coffee as black as my heart (for now)

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