10 Scandals and Secrets of Starbucks and Walmart the Chains Would Just as Soon You Forget

Not everything was meant to be public knowledge …

Chain stores can be sneaky, but when secrets among employees of top U.S. brands leak, leading to intriguing glimpses behind the scenes and the occasional public scandal that threatens their names, consumers are often kept in the dark as to the original issues.

We will attempt to source those secrets here.

Five Secrets of Starbucks The Chain Would Prefer You Do Not Realize, Or Do Not Remember

1. Starbucks profited from deforestation efforts that led to the deaths of an estimated 50,000-plus orangatans, and uncaccounted other species. Starbucks had long maintained a reputation for sustainability in product and practice, meaning everything about the brand and its product was socially, environmentally, and economically friendly. Words like “eco-friendly” were utilized frequently when publicly describing the brand and its philosophy.

In 2013, National Geographic broke the story that Starbucks was using palm oil in their recipes, which was harvested in Indonesia and Malaysia via deforestation. The chain profited from the destruction of half the countries’ natural forests in favor of palm oil plantations to meet the demands of their original recipes. Voices for Biodiversity estimates the deaths of over 50,000 orangutans as a result of such practices, which should be noted was not exclusive to Starbucks though the chain was among the greatest offenders in reference to its contradictory public stance.

For more information, see 2013 National Geographic story here, which has since played a major role in the chain’s reversal of their palm oil policy.

For those who want to read more on the widespread damage caused by such palm oil harvesting in general, see here.

2. From 2003–2015, Starbucks’ famed Pumpkin Spiced Latte contained no pumpkin at all. Instead, the recipe called for a combination of milk fat, sugar, caffeine, salt, and other additives and preservatives. When pumpkin was finally added as part of a syrupy mix, they made sure the sugar content still proved highly addictive. See here.

3. No, it is not your imagination that the coffee in your latte has lessened over the years. Lawsuits have been filed about the content of coffee and/or milk in Starbucks’ iced lattes. Starbucks’ defense has been if a customer wants ice in his or her drink … there needed to be a lot of it for thermodynamics reasons. What they had not told the customers was they were adding more ice and less coffee for years. When you order a latte, be sure it is filled to the brim with coffee and/or milk. See here for information on a 2016 class action suit.

4. The calorie content in some Starbucks’ lattes are greater than those in a Big Mac or a Whopper. Sugar is the prime culprit here. While the American Heart Association recommends no more than nine teaspoons of sugar for men or six teaspoons of sugar for woman per day, Starbucks’ drinks frequently went well beyond those daily intake recommendations.

The chain’s Venti Grape Mulled Fruit, for example, contained 25 teaspoons of sugar, or a whopping 99 grams. In terms of calorie count, the Venti White Chocolate Creme Frappuchino measured in at 510, while a Big Mac contains 540. The Tazo Green Tee Frappuchino measured in at 560 calories, while their White Hot Chocolate contained 640 calories.

Most of this was due to sugar content. In response to mounting criticism, Starbucks deceased the sugar content in their drinks by up to 25% in 2020, which still is a greater amount than necessary and well above the AHA guidelines.

See here for more information.

5. Starbucks’ dairy-free coconut milk is anything but healthy. Once again, sugar (cane sugar) and a host of preservatives curtail the potentially healthier aspect of this option, which includes xanthan gum, tricalcium phosphate and other offenders.

But Starbucks is not the only chain that has been singled-out for discreet business practices. Walmart is not the picture of innocence, either, though this chain may be more responsible for hiding aspects of their business that can be of benefit to the consumer.

Five Secrets of Walmart They Would Prefer You Did Not Realize

1. There is a confidential system behind their “markdowns.” If a price of an item ends in a “7,” that is the original price of the item. If the price ends in a “5,” that is a first markdown. If it ends in a “1” or a “0,” that markdown is final. So if a given item, for example, is listed as $69.97, that is the item’s original price. If you prefer to hold off for a markdown, when that happens the first time the price should be listed at $59.95 or thereabouts. The final markdown will be in the range of $49.91. For further information, see a comprehensive article on the matter here.

2. In-store and online prices frequently vary. Visit the chain’s online presence first for what you would like to purchase, then visit the store if that is your intent. You may, surprisingly, find more savings at one or the other.

3. On the same subject, if you shop online but visit the store for pickup, some of your items may be listed as “Pickup Discount Eligible.” This means you save not only on your shipping, but also potentially unexpected item discounts by picking up directly at the store’s service desk.

4. Generic prices of their medications are not necessarily less expensive than the brand names they carry. The reason is brand names at Walmart go on sale with some frequency, while the generic versions typically remain fixed at their price. Recommendation: Always ask for prices on both, regardless of the frequency of your refills or visits. Note: This scenario is similar to most pharmacies, and is not endemic to Walmart.

5. You will save substantial money on “refurbished” electronics. Visit the refurbished section of the Walmart website, which lists items with steep discounts. These are generally items that had flaws and have subsequently been fixed. Like any other company, Walmart is under a legal obligation when selling items that are not considered “new.” Check it out. You have nothing to lose.

I will add an addendum here: According to ConnectUsFund.org, Walmart has been admonished for anti-employee practices including poor healthcare coverage, un-environmentally friendly operations in-house — most notably widespread clean water violations — and racist hiring practices. These points, among others, will be subjects of a future piece.

Information in this article has been previously shared in public forums, as linked throughout. I hope by bringing some of these “secrets” together you as a consumer can make the right choices.

As with most any other chain or store, both Starbucks and Walmart will continue practices that are best for business first. As a shopper, you have the right to be aware.

I hope you have found this article helpful.

Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

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