Industry News | September 22, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

One Fast Casual Answers Panera's Kids' Menu Challenge

Panera Bread is challenging its quick-service peers to improve their kids' menus. flickr: Mike Mozart
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At least one fast casual brand is ready to take Panera Bread’s #KidsMenuChallenge. On Wednesday, Panera posted a video of founder Ron Shaich daring the rest of the industry to eat off their kids’ menu for a week, specifically calling out Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s.

Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh CEO James Park heeded the call. Park released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the brand’s entire management team would eat off Garbanzo’s kids’ menu from September 24–30. He also raised Panera an additional challenge.

In addition to encouraging adult guests to order from the kids’ menu all week, Garbanzo will donate $1 to a local children’s hospital for every Kids Meal purchased in that span.

“We agree with Ron that too many restaurant brands offer ‘nutritionally empty’ meals to their youngest customers—and to their adults guests too, for that matter,” Park said in a statement. “On the contrary, Garbanzo is incredibly proud of the meals we serve to every guest, including kids. Our authentic, flavorful dishes are derived from Old World recipes with a new twist, but without compromise. I’m a father of four and I occasionally choose a Kids Meal at Garbanzo when I’m not that hungry, so eating them for a week sounds awesome.”

The Denver-based brand features organic milk and whole, sliced-on-the-spot apples on its kids’ menus. There are 25 locations nationwide, including 15 in the Denver area, which will donate to Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“So we’ll see your Kids Meal Challenge, Ron, and raise you a charity drive,” Park said. “We invite Panera to join us in donating $1 from your kids meal sales next week to a children’s charity of your choice. Let’s do some good while shining a light on the importance of eating healthier, better food—starting with our kids.”

This isn't the first time Shaich has issued a challenge to his peers. The most recent came when Panera announced it would become the first major major chain to list the calories and added sugars of its fountain beverages at all 2,100 or so U.S. locations.

"While we won’t tell people what they should drink, we want to provide real options and real transparency—and we’re challenging the industry to join us," he said at the time.

Panera released the news the same day it unveiled what it calls the "largest kids menu of any national restaurant chain." There are more than 250 meal combinations without toys or sugary drinks.

Children can choose almost any item on Panera’s normal menu as a smaller sized entrée.

“For too long, restaurants in America have served menus full of nutritionally empty chicken nuggets, pizza and fries, paired with sugary drinks and cheap toys. We believe kids must come first,” Shaich said in a statement. “As a parent, I’m proud that I could eat off the Panera kids menu and still enjoy delicious and wholesome meals. I’m challenging the CEOs of some of the largest companies in the industry—McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s—to personally eat exclusively from their restaurants’ kids meals for an entire week—and if not, to take a thoughtful look at what they are offering our smallest guests."

Panera issued a “Kids Meal Promise” in August 2016 that highlights five points: Clean; No Marketing Gimmicks; Real Options; Nutritiously Paired; and No Sugar-Laden Drinks as Part of a Meal.

Check out Shaich's latest video below.