Will boozy ‘Dunkin’ Spiked’ nudge teens to start drinking?

Dunkin’ Spiked, a new line of alcoholic iced coffees and teas from the coffee and donut chain Dunkin’, might give youth “too easy an entry point” into alcohol, warns substance use prevention researcher David Jernigan.

The beverages are sold at package and grocery stores from Texas to Maine in flavors like Caramel Iced Coffee and Mango Pineapple Iced Tea Refresher. Dunkin’ says the boozy drinks are “perfect for day or night enjoyment.”

Despite the breezy PR attempt, Jernigan, a professor of health law, policy, and management at Boston University, has real concerns, and says you might want to stick with your regular coffee. Not only does Dunkin’s new line pack a pretty high alcohol punch—as much as a craft beer for the coffees—he says the beverages could be dangerously appealing to underage drinkers.

“We have more places to buy alcohol in Massachusetts than we have Dunkin’ Donuts,” Jernigan says. “This is, among other things, another way to spread the Dunkin’ brand. My concern is just that this is too easy an entry point [to alcohol] for kids who already have loyalty to the brand.”

If it seems a long way from rainbow sprinkled donuts to a 6% ABV beverage, Dunkin’ is just the latest in a long line of family-friendly food and drink names jumping into the liquor aisle.

Mountain Dew, SunnyD, and even Eggo—yes, as in the breakfast waffles—have all released hard drinks in recent years. And that has advocates worried about the message being sent to kids by their favorite brands, not to mention the danger of them accidentally (or intentionally) swigging their parents’ alcoholic SunnyD with their breakfast.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on the blurring lines between adult and kids beverages points to multiple examples of Hard Mountain Dew being placed on shelves next to the regular drink—and even near a toy display. “Some states say adult and children’s drinks are getting too close,” the article says.

But for the companies, they see big money to be made: venerable liquor distiller Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola tie-up was reportedly the most successful launch in its history.

Manufacturers say these products are clearly labeled and marketed for over 21s drinking responsibly, and that they train retailers to stock them correctly. On its website, SunnyD addresses its crossover with an FAQ, “Isn’t SunnyD a kid’s drink?” Its response: the vodka seltzer “was developed specifically for adults 21+ who love the bold one-of-a-kind orange flavor of SunnyD and who also enjoy cocktails.”

Here, Jernigan explores the decisions of Dunkin’ and other kid-friendly brands to make a foray into alcoholic drinks and the trend’s potential impact on youth substance use:

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