Starbucks is betting big on olive oil infused coffee, hoping customers will be enticed by the anomaly and the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
“It is one of the biggest launches we’ve had in decades,” Brady Brewer, Starbucks’ chief marketing officer, told CNN. Former CEO Howard Schultz added in an interview with Poppy Harlow that it will “transform the coffee industry,” and be “a very profitable new addition to the company.”
But what the company may not have taken into account: Some customers say it’s making them have to run to the bathroom.
“Half the team tried it yesterday and a few ended up… needing to use the restroom, if ya know what I mean,” a barista on the Starbucks Reddit page posted. CNN has reached out to the Redditor for comment.
It might be the sheen from the oil. Or it could be the aftertaste. Social media was swift with condemning the drink – and the after effects.
“That oleato drink from starbs makin my stomach speak,” one user tweeted.
Those with sensitive stomachs are already wary.
“IBD patient here. I wouldn’t touch these drinks with a ten-foot pole,” one Redditor said.
The new platform, Oleato, rolled out in Italy in February. Each beverage – an oat milk latte, ice shaken espresso with oat milk and a golden foam cold brew – are made with a spoonful of oil, adding 120 calories to a drink. Select Starbucks stores in Seattle and Los Angeles and Reserves in Chicago, Seattle and New York are now serving the platform of beverages.
CNN has reached out to Starbucks for comment.
Science behind the pain
Olive oil is a staple in Mediterranean culture and some drink bits of olive oil in the region daily.
But the Starbucks drink has a potentially fragile combination: caffeine, which is a stimulant, and olive oil, which is a relaxant.
A 16-ounce drink has as much as 34 grams of fat, which is more than what many find in a meal, registered dietitian nutritionist Erin Palinski-Wade said. And olive oil can help soften the stool, making it easier to go the bathroom.
“If you combined high fat in a meal or in a beverage along with coffee, which already stimulates the bowels,” Palinski-Wade said, “that combination can cause cramping. It can cause increased mobility in the colon and therefore have that laxative effect.”
Some customers said the speed at which they had to use the restroom after having the drink caught them off guard. But high fat meals take longer to digest than liquid olive oil, which will hit the digestive track faster, Palinski-Wade said. And most people in the US are drinking coffee on the go and aren’t pairing the drink with any carbohydrates and fibers to negate the impact.
The benefits of olive oil are widely circulated, linked to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease to lowering blood pressure (though the positive health outcomes could be because the Mediterranean diet replaces unhealthy fats like butter with olive oil, The New York Times reported.)
“(The drink) is not going to make somebody physically ill from the standpoint of having a negative impact on health,” Palinski-Wade said. “But more of that uncomfortable feeling of having to go in the bathroom or potentially cramping.”
In the Mediterranean, taking a spoonful of olive oil a day is part of a daily routine. Former CEO Howard Schultz picked up this habit himself from olive oil producer Tommaso Asaro while in Sicily, Italy.
“When we got together and started doing this ritual I said to [Asaro], I know you think I’m going to be crazy, but have you ever thought of infusing a tablespoon of olive oil with Starbucks coffee?” Schultz told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “He thought it was a little strange.” Asaro is the chairman of United Olive Oil, through which Starbucks is sourcing its olive oil.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly categorized olive oil.
CNN’s Danielle Wiener-Bronner contributed to this story.