Starbucks is testing a new way to make Frappuccinos that lets customers order the much-loved drink with 25 percent less sugar.
Customers looking to indulge can find the tweaked beverages at about 600 locations in California, Missouri and Rhode Island, where the chain is experimenting with the drink, the company said.
The key is adding flavor and sweetness separately. Starbucks explained that it started down this road last year with Teavana Infusions, where the fruity taste of Mango Black Tea or Strawberry Green Tea came from botanicals – and the sugar from natural cane syrup. Now, the coffee giant is applying the same double-barreled approach to espressos and Frappuccinos.
Starbucks previously pledged to cut the amount of sugar in its drinks lineup by 25 percent by the end of 2020, including some of the company's most indulgent beverages.
For example, a 16-ounce traditional Caramel Frappuccino has 66 grams of sugar – along with 420 calories and 15 grams of fat. Compare that to the lower-sugar version, which contains 49 grams, plus 370 calories and 16 grams of fat, according to the company.
"These are the beverages our customers know and love, but are crafted to adjust the flavor and sweetness exactly how they want it," said spokeswoman Sanja Gould. "The Frappuccino blended beverages are being tested to still have the cool, creamy and delicious flavor."
The slightly reconfigured Frappucino experiment comes 21 years after Starbucks introduced sugar-free syrups for its drinks.
The new reduced-sugar Frappuccinos cost the same as their full-sugar predecessors: $4.75 to $5.45, depending on the market.
While Frappuccinos are a Starbucks institution – well known enough to serve as the base of many of the chain's stunt drinks, such as the Crystal Ball Frappuccino, the Christmas Tree Frappuccino and the social-media star Unicorn Frappuccino – the beverage isn't as performing as well as it once did.
Frappuccinos' year-over-year revenue growth was 17 percent in fiscal year 2015 and then dropped to 5 percent in fiscal year 2016 and 4 percent in fiscal year 2017. In the first eight months of fiscal year 2018, it stalled completely, dropping to -3 percent. Starbucks' fiscal year begins in early October.
"Our goal is for Starbucks to offer something for everyone to enjoy and we are always looking for ways to address the dietary needs of our customers that will deliver the quality and taste that our customers have come to expect," Gould said.
The chain announced in April that it was cutting its limited-time offers by 30 percent. Since then, Starbucks has added a handful of new Frappuccinos to its permanent menu, including the Serious Strawberry Frappuccino and the Triple Mocha Frappuccino.
Restaurant consultant John Gordon of the Pacific Management Consulting Group said he was "shocked" that Starbucks is exploring less-sugar options only now.
"The movement away from sugar is a 10-year phenomenon. It's embedded," he said. "They shouldn't have let it go this long. This is not rocket science."
The company's stock closed at $53.53, up 8 cents or 0.15 percent, on Tuesday.