Will Seeing Calorie Counts on Starbucks' Menus Change Your Order?



There’s something more than coffee brewing at Starbucks this week. 

The company began posting the number of calories in everything on its menu — from a simple espresso shot to a venti whipped Frappuccino — in all of its stores across the country. The company's decision to start posting the counts nationwide comes ahead of federal mandate that will require any restaurant chain with more than 20 locations to do the same.

Eateries like Panera Bread and McDonalds have been posting the calories since 2010 and 2010, respectively.

But will seeing calorie counts make us healthier consumers? Is that number really going to stop us from buying something we want?

Why Now? 

The decision to expand their calorie boards nationwide stemmed from the results of a 2011 study with Stanford University that showed how posting caloric information led to a 14 percent reduction in consumers' calorie intake, says Starbucks spokeswoman Holly Hart Shafer. Starbucks earlier posted calories on menu boards in various regions, including New York City, California, and parts of Washington State, to comply with local regulations.

The study also showed that drink orders were mostly unaffected. Sounds like a win-win for the coffee giant's 13,000-plus stores across North America, where Shafer says that the decision is "an important component in helping customers make more informed choices."

But will this new information cause caffeine chasers to opt for smaller beverages or cut down? Or storm out of the store looking for a more waistline-friendly option?

We don’t think so, and neither does Starbucks regular Amy Kauffman. "If I’m thirsty for a Frappuccino, I’ll get one!" she says.

But for those who are concerned about their caloric intake, knowing what you're putting into your body can make a big difference. "Posting the calories in a visible area is a great vehicle for helping consumers make that next step, and taking that information and personalizing it to a healthy lifestyle," says Sari Greaves, the nutrition director at Step Ahead Weight Loss Center. "You can have your Frappuccino and drink it too, but you need to ask yourself: Do I want to downsize it or lighten it up?"

Think Before You Drink

Starbucks has a history of tuning into calorie counts. The company added sugar-free syrup to its stories in 1997, and made 2 percent milk the standard in 2006. Shafer says the moves have saved customers about 17 billion calories per year in the U.S. and Canada. The company also cites ways to limit your calorie intake when ordering, such as choosing the "light" drink option, which cuts down at least 33 percent of the calories. In the case of a Frappuccino, asking for less or no "whip" can save anywhere between 80-110 calories.

And then there's the snacks.

Jarett Schultz, a Manhattan lawyer who usually only orders a tall blonde coffee, thinks the nutritional information will impact his decision-making. "The calorie postings deter you from getting any snack at Starbucks. They could definitely provide a few more healthier selections."

But Katerina Sardi, who goes to Starbucks at least once a week, doesn’t think that the calorie count postings are that big of a deal.

"The same thing with McDonalds and Burger King happened, and people are still buying it! It essentially doesn’t matter."