Soy surcharge

Say No to the Soy Milk Surcharge. 50 Local Cafes that Won't Charge Extra for Those Who Don't Do Cow

Does it make sense to charge someone 50 cents extra just for soy milk?

Like many new graduates, I was working as a barista in Starbucks waiting for my first reporting gig to show up. My gainfully employed friends, many of whom had dietary restrictions, would come visit and order those sugary-sweet drinks with soy or lactose-free milk. I went against company policy each and every time and refused to charge them the extra coin for soy.

What I thought was a personal stand at the time has morphed into a wider issue in cafes across Toronto. Earlier this year Toronto vegetarian Sarah Veale made a post she called the Soy Latte Project to catalogue cafes that don't charge for soy or lactose-free milk.

It was a good idea but she must have gotten sidetracked as this list remains small and somewhat abandoned. So this week I called all the cafes listed on this site to see who's charging extra for soy milk in our lattes.

So what did I find out? Looking at the independents only, 34 currently apply an extra charge for soy milk - the price varies from 15 to 50 cents. Many baristas and owners who I talked to said they did so because soy milk costs more than the regular dairy stuff. But just over 50 of the cafes find a way to not add the soy milk surcharge and believe strongly that their customers should have their choice of milk regardless of the price.

"Never have, never will," remarked someone I spoke with at Tango Palace Coffee Company in Leslieville.

As for Veale, she contacted Starbucks' corporate office to ask why they charge so much for soy, especially when a carton has a fairly long shelf life and runs less than $4 retail (Starbucks probably pays under $2) which is less than the price of one latte. She received a standard press release back citing the price of soy milk as the reason.

It doesn't take an economist to figure out this is really just a money grab. If a massive chain like Starbucks that charges more for a latte than almost any cafe in the city doesn't have the margins to absorb the extra costs of soy then they're in more trouble than Wall Street thinks.

Consider that Jet Fuel's better tasting and bigger latte only runs 3 bucks. And they don't charge extra for soy. The numbers just don't add up.

"Finding soy-friendly venues is one option that puts the power back in consumers' hands," Veale says. "We can go elsewhere. If some shops want to alienate soy drinkers, there are other entrepreneurs eager to step in and cater to that clientele."

And who are those entrepreneurs? Here's a map of 50 Toronto cafes that don't charge extra for soy.

Writing by Lyndsie Bourgon. Photo by Adam Fick on Flickr

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