As Dutch Bros Expands, It Confronts a Problem: Syrup-Addicted Bees

It’s a big problem at coffee windows in Phoenix.

BEE-WARE: A Dutch Bros shop in Gresham. (Brian Burk)

Dutch Bros, the Grants Pass-based chain of drive-up coffee windows, had a roller-coaster year. The company went public in September 2021; its stock closed at $34 a share Thursday, down 19% in the past 12 months. Last spring, Dutch Bros endured a massive, inflation-driven slump.

Yet the Oregon company continues an aggressive growth strategy. According to fast-food trade magazine QSR, Dutch Brothers opened 133 stores last year for a total of 671 drive-thrus in 14 states. It has a foothold in the Sun Belt and over the next decade plans to expand into the American South.

And where Dutch Bros goes, bees follow.

That’s the upshot of a report by Phoenix magazine, which examined a curious happening: honeybees swarming around Dutch Bros drive-thru lanes across the metro area. (Arizona has the third-largest collection of Dutch Bros shops, behind Oregon and California.)

The culprit? Coffee syrup.

SWEET DREAMS: A Dutch Bros menu in Gresham. (Brian Burk)

Any patron of Dutch Bros knows the chain’s wheelhouse is caffeinated liquid desserts in rainbow hues, and those rely on buckets of sweet, artificially flavored corn syrup. The open windows of drive-thru coffee hutches give bees easy access, and what follows sounds a lot like insect meth addiction (or an old Kids in the Hall sketch).

“Arizona honeybees are forsaking their avocation in favor of a combination of corn syrup, processed beet sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and a fistful of preservatives—a combination devoid of nutrients and indigestible to bees,” Phoenix reports. The story recounts the efforts of one freelance beekeeper to remove hives from the source of temptation, until Dutch Bros canceled its contract.

A Dutch Bros representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WW. The company provided this response to Phoenix: “Dutch Bros uses a professional service to identify and address hives within a several-mile radius of our shops. We do our best to be responsive to issues surrounding bees and ensure we’re meeting the needs of our customers and crews. Thanks.”

It’s unclear to what degree the bee addiction crisis is limited to Arizona. This is the first we’ve heard of a bee problem surrounding the company since its founding in Southern Oregon, but the Phoenix reporter interviewed a former Dutch Bros employee who worked in Portland and claimed “we had the bee problem there, too.”

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