Is Costa’s oat milk gluten-free in the UK? Is it still safe for Coeliacs in 2022? How does this affect cross-contamination and what’s changed? Here’s all the important info you need to know before ordering…
Is Costa’s oat milk gluten-free? Well, it used to be, in case you didn’t know! But as of 30th of December 2021, one BIG thing that changed that you definitely need to know about…
IMPORTANT NEW UPDATE ON THE COSTA SITUATION SINCE THIS POST WAS WRITTEN! If you’ve read this post already, tap here to skip to the update, otherwise, please read the rest first!
A crash course on gluten-free oats
In case you didn’t know, oats must be labelled as ‘gluten-free’ to be suitable for those following a gluten-free diet. This is because, although oats don’t naturally contain gluten, they’re cross-contaminated by production processes more-often-than-not.
You can read more about gluten-free oats over on Coeliac UK by tapping here.
So of course, the same logic applies to oat milk: it must be made using gluten-free oats. But even if you don’t ever choose oat milk in your coffee when ordering at Costa, this post still concerns you!
Why? Well, because the fact that Costa are using non-gluten-free oats in their stores introduces a change in the level of cross-contamination risk.
So, is Costa’s oat milk gluten-free or not?
The question ‘is Costa’s oat milk gluten-free?’ popped up a lot on Facebook yesterday evening and for very good reason. As of December 30th 2021, Costa are switching from using the Alpro Barista for professionals gluten-free oat milk to a non-gluten-free oat milk.
(Side note: please don’t confuse the product linked above for the Alpro Barista oat milk you can buy in supermarkets – this is a different product that doesn’t have the ‘for professionals’ tag and is not gluten-free.)
Costa have been using Alpro gluten-free oat milk for the last 6 months or so, but it looks like that stint is over.
The change in oat milk was first raised as a warning to fellow gluten-free folks on Facebook by a handful of Costa colleagues who happen to be gluten-free themselves, as well as friends and family members of colleagues:
But of course, it’s nice to hear it from the horse’s mouth too! So here’s Costa’s response when questioned why they’ve been out of stock of oat milk in stores recently:
So, how do we know that the new oat milk Costa will be using isn’t gluten-free?
Well, it’s thanks to the same kind gluten-free Costa colleagues that warned the gluten-free community in the first place! See the screenshot below 👇🏻
The new oat milk that Costa will be using is from a brand called ‘AdeZ’ and it has been confirmed to not be gluten-free.
In case you didn’t know, the brand AdeZ is owned by Coca Cola and so is Costa.
Costa timed the change in milk to tie in with Veganuary, as they will now be serving Adez coconut, oat, almond and soya milk – all from the same Coca Cola owned brand – instead of Alpro. So that goes some way in explaining the switch.
So to answer the question ‘is Costa’s oat milk gluten-free?’, the answer as of December 30th 2021 is a firm no.
What does this mean for gluten-free folks and Coeliacs?
As is painfully clear, it’s no longer safe for anyone on a gluten-free diet to order any drinks containing oat milk for the foreseeable future.
But as I mentioned, even if you never order a coffee with oat milk, the reintroduction of cross-contaminated oat milk alters the risk for any gluten-free person ordering a hot drink with frothed milk in Costa. Why?
Well, that’s because all of the milk in Costa is frothed using the same steam arm(s) – now including non-gluten-free oat milk.
When all of the milk was gluten-free as standard (as Costa was using gluten-free oat milk) the risk of cross-contamination was greatly reduced compared to coffee shops like Starbucks. But that’s sadly no longer the case.
So here’s the next big question: what’s the risk like now? Well, one gluten-free Costa colleague shares the practises at their store and their own personal take:
So, is it safe to order a coffee at Costa anymore?
Though I’d personally love to give you a clear yes or no, it’s probably better for me to point you to Coeliac UK’s stance on the matter.
A similar situation to this one happened at Starbucks back in 2018 when they first introduced oat milk. It was essentially the first introduction of non-gluten-free milk in coffee shop chains and, not surprisingly, was very poorly received by the gluten-free community.
I bring this up as Coeliac UK made an official statement about Starbucks which is similar to the Costa situation. You can read the full statement here, but here’s the important bits:
We are concerned about this decision which seems to put people requiring gluten free at a real and unnecessary disadvantage.
We have been in contact with Starbucks to understand the level of risk and been told that low levels of gluten may be found in these beverages due to the use of shared equipment, and that they highlight the allergen risk to customers.
We believe it should be possible to accommodate the needs of people with milk or dairy issues without cutting choice for people with a medical need for gluten free.
We will be urging Starbucks to reconsider its practices to ensure cross contamination risk is managed properly.
In the meantime, as we do not know the levels of gluten involved, we advise our members to be aware of this risk in making purchasing decisions regarding these products.Coeliac UK, January 2018
So there you go – as the levels of gluten left on the steam arm are not known, Coeliac UK advise heightened awareness when ordering a coffee at a coffee shop that also serves non-gluten-free oat milk.
My final thoughts
So, with all of the above in mind, what I will say is, if still visiting Costa for a hot drink with frothed milk, please use your own judgement and ensure you do all the usual checks before ordering:
- Inform your server that you’re gluten-free or have Coeliac disease
- Ask about their cross-contamination procedures concerning oat milk
- Observe how your drink is prepared and how adequately the steam arm is cleaned before use
- Use your own judgement before making the decision to drink that coffee! How busy is the store? How small is the preparation area or not? How did the staff react to your questions?
As I always say in these situations: if you’re not sure, don’t risk it! There are of course hot drinks without frothed milk that pose a reduced-cross contamination risk.
Needless to say, it’s a real shame that this change was made without considering gluten-free customers. As we all know, added peace of mind is priceless when you’re gluten-free, so it’s sad to see Costa ditch gluten-free oat milk after only 6-7 months.
And that’s not because I ever ordered oat milk – it’s because of how much gluten-free oat milk reduced the cross-contamination risk!
Of course, this isn’t to say that it’s impossible to order a hot drink with frothed milk at Costa that’s safely prepared. But you’ll certainly need to be very vigilant if choosing to do so by following the bullet points listed above.
Will you still be ordering a coffee from Costa?
I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions to the change in oat milk at Costa. Will you still be ordering a coffee there? Or will you be staying away completely? Please let me know in the comments below this post or in the corresponding post on social media.
31/12/2021: IMPORTANT UPDATE
In addition to the above, it turns out that Costa’s new AdeZ soya milk AND coconut milk now both have a ‘may contain’ warning for wheat… This is likely due to them being produced alongside the oat milk.
You can check this for yourself in Costa’s Nutrition and Allergy guide on page 56: https://www.costa.co.uk/docs/store-allergen-guide.pdf
And here’s Costa’s official response when I queried the oat milk situation with them:
“As part of our new January menu we have changed supplier of dairy alternative products. Consumers can still enjoy the full range of dairy alternative flavours they’ve come to expect at Costa, including oat, soya, almond and coconut.
We have updated our Nutrition and Allergy Guide to reflect these changes and whilst the new oat flavour does not contain wheat, we have included “may contain” information aligned to the suppliers risk assessment.
Updated information can be found in store or online and we’ve a new counter top card in stores notifying consumers of the change.”Costa Coffee spokesperson, 31/12/2021
However, this response neglected to mention the new ‘may contain’ warnings on soya and coconut milk too!! This is super important as most would automatically assume that at least soy and coconut milk would be gluten-free, so please help to let everyone know To say I am disappointed would be an understatement!