From kids menus to sodas to, most recently, eggs, Panera has never shied from a transparency battle. Now, the fast-casual stalwart is offering to help its competition as well.
According to an article in Reuters, Panera is launching a consulting service to assist other brands in removing artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, and colors from their menus.
“We want to help industry peers devise strategies that prioritize clean across their whole menu, rather than focusing on a single ingredient or product,” Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy,” told Reuters.
The chain’s 'Clean Consultant' service will help brands source better ingredients. It will feature experts available for guidance on how to use more all-natural ingredients as well, and get involved in food policy issues. Founder and chairman Ron Shaich, who stepped down from his CEO role in early November, said Panera has been approached by peers in the past asking for help to clean up their menus, something the brand has plenty of experience with. Panera announced in January 2017 that its entire U.S. food menu and portfolio of Panera at Home products were free from all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources as defined by the company’s No No List, inclusive of 96 separate ingredients and additive classes.
The company reviewed more than 450 ingredients to do so, it said. Panera reformulated 122 ingredients and partnered with more than 300 food vendors.
This past year, Panera became the first national restaurant company to post added sugars and calories for all self-serve beverages and then promptly challenged others to join in. In September, the fast casual unveiled the largest clean kids menu of any national restaurant chain, offering 250-plus meal combinations without toys or sugary drinks. Again, this was followed by a challenge. On January 19, Panera said it petitioned the FDA to establish a clear definition for the term “egg” in conjunction with its launch of new breakfast sandwiches featuring 100 percent real eggs made with freshly prepared, cracked shell eggs and/or egg whites with no additives.
“After discovering the FDA’s lack of definition for the simple term “egg,” Panera began exploring menus from other companies in the food industry to better understand what’s in their ‘egg’ sandwiches. Panera found that 50 percent of the top 10 fast casual restaurants that sell breakfast have an ‘egg’ made of at least five ingredients, often more,” Panera said.
“Responsible companies will be transparent about the food items they serve, even if regulation does not require them to do so,” CEO and president Blaine Hurst said in a statement at the time.
In regards to the consulting service, Shaich told Reuters, “We thought it was time to formalize that advice,” and that the service would help end “clean washing,” where a brand reformulates a product to be more natural and then pairs it with unnatural dipping sauces.
Panera also announced a new “clean” chicken wing sauce this week. The chain didn’t share how many consultants it planned to hire or if anyone was signed up for the service.