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Starbucks is changing the formula of its classic Frappuccino — here's why

The coffee chain is trying to win back customers cutting down on sugar.
by Erica Chayes Wida / / Source: TODAY
TODAY Food photo for reduced sugar Frappuccino
frappuccino/Instagram

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Americans are ditching sugary drinks in droves, but Starbucks doesn't want to be left behind.

To keep up with consumer demand, the coffee chain recently announced that it's testing out a slimmed-down version of its famous Frappuccino that contains fewer calories and less sugar. But is it really that big of a change?

Currently, a 16-ounce caramel Frappuccino (that's a grande) made with whole milk and served with whipped cream contains 420 calories and 66 grams of sugar. That's more sugar than you'll find in a cup of Ben & Jerry's Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz ice cream which has 48 grams.

The Crystal Ball Frappuccino will only be available for four days.
The Crystal Ball Frappuccino will only be available for four days.Starbucks

At an investors' conference in mid-June (when frozen treats are typically on the rise), Kevin Johnson, president, CEO and director of Starbucks, shared that Frappuccino sales were down industry-wide, with Starbucks seeing a 3 percent decline in U.S. stores since 2015.

The Seattle-based coffee chain has made strives previously to target people who prefer lighter drinks and, according to a Starbucks spokesperson, looked to the Teavana Shaken Ice Tea Infusions for inspiration — replacing the high-sugar syrups with unsweetened natural flavors and simple syrup, neither of which have artificial flavors or preservatives.

Now, the chain has turned its attention to the signature iced coffee drink.

Starbucks frappuccinos
Starbucks

Finding the right formula for the new drink (which has a surprising history) was quite a feat. According to the coffee chain, Starbucks tested more than 20 types of cream and 70 different vanilla flavorings until they found a mixture that didn't compromise the drink's original flavor and texture. They also had to create a new syrup bottle to ensure the reformulated syrup dispenses properly in each serving.

The new caramel Frappuccino formula, which is currently being tested at 600 Starbucks cafes in California, Rhode Island and Missouri, contains "arabica coffee, a new sweet cream blend, natural caramel flavor, simple syrup and a [customer's] milk of choice, blended with ice." A 16-ounce grande order contains 370 calories and 49 grams of sugar.

So is that really a good, healthy swap?

"While cutting 18 grams of sugar sounds like a lot — 3 1/2 teaspoons — it’s certainly not a low-sugar drink," NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor Madelyn Fernstrom told TODAY Food about the new formula, which still has 13 teaspoons of sugar.

"There should be no confusion that this is a good-for-[you-]drink. It’s an indulgence, if you choose, to be a treat, not a regular addition to your daily food intake," Fernstrom continued. "And downsize to a 'small,' which is still a substantial serving — 12 ounces!"

If you're looking for a coffee option that is truly healthy, Fernstrom recommended trying a different coffee drink like a small latte, which still allows you to get milk's calcium, protein and a vitamin D boost, plus a hit of caffeine.

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