Industry News | March 31, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

Panera Issues a Soda Challenge to the Fast Food Industry

Panera will now post added sugars and calories for all self-serve beverages. image used with permission.
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Panera Bread just issued a challenge to the rest of the restaurant industry.

Starting April 5, the fast casual brand will become the first major chain to list the calories and added sugars of its fountain beverages at all 2,100 or so U.S. locations.

“With up to 75 grams of sugar—just one 20-ounce soft drink contains more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar,” Panera founder, chairman, and CEO Ron Shaich says in a statement. “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.”

Along with the transparent move, Panera is introducing a series of 100 percent clean, non-carbonated craft beverages made with no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors or colors from artificial sources. This includes new teas, lemonades, and frescas.

Panera points out that sugary, chemical-laden beverages contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in America. Panera made a similar move in 2010 when it started posting calories on its menu boards.

Panera expects the new line of craft, clean beverages to be available nationwide by September. They will launch in select, unrevealed cities in April.

Here is the lineup:

The Iced Black Tea and Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea are unsweetened, with zero grams of added sugar.

The Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca is lightly sweetened with fruit juice, with zero grams of added sugar

The Passion Papaya Green Tea, Blood Orange Lemonade, and Agave Lemonade contain less than 35 grams of added sugar per 20-ounce cup, much less than regular soft drinks.

“We believe people deserve to know exactly what’s in their drink so they can make the best choice for their lifestyle,” says Sara Burnett, director of wellness, Panera Bread, in a statement. “We know more and more guests are looking to reduce their added sugar consumption, and we’re providing an increased number of real, clean options with our new teas, lemonades, and frescas.”

Panera took out an ad in Friday’s Washington Post calling on rivals to also post sugar and calorie information for beverages.

It has been a week of menu innovation around the industry. McDonald’s announcement on Thursday that it was planning to use fresh beef in its Quarter Pounders was preceded by Chipotle’s proclamation that all preservatives were gone from its menu. Chipotle’s announcement said that it was now the only national chain with no added colors, flavors or preservatives, but that didn’t apply to beverages.

According to an article on Bloomberg, Shaich informed PepsiCo before the announcement was made public. The company’s response was not known.

PepsiCo has been proactive with meeting this demand, launching lower-calorie options like Stubborn craft soda and the water-bottle brand LIFEWTR.

“We know guests are looking for enticing and seasonal flavors that will complement their meal,” says Tom Sadler, vice president of product development, Panera Bread, in a statement. “The beverage line was crafted with unique, seasonal ingredients to offer new exciting flavors with various sweetness levels—from Blood Orange, to Prickly Pear, and more.”

Panera’s move was greeted by third-party support.

“Soda and other sugary drinks promote diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other health problems. Good for Panera for getting creative with new, lower-sugar drinks and for giving people more information at soda fountains, where it will be maximally useful,” says Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement.

Adds Ricardo J. Salvador, director and senior scientist, Food & Environment Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists: “If we expect consumers to make healthy choices, we need to make those healthy choices available and equip the consumer with information. Panera's action of today is a great step in the right direction. Actions like this, if taken by more companies, would have real potential to tilt our food system toward better choices and improved national health and wellbeing.”