Pizza brand Papa John’s completed the removal of 14 ingredients from its menu as part of its clean label initiative, including artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and flavor enhancers.

Company founder and CEO John Schnatter promised to remove the ingredients by the end of 2016 in an open letter to the Moms and Dads of America last June.

“Part of our initiative over the last seven years is there’s an annual cycle we go through in terms of putting every product and ingredient statement on a trial for its life, if you will,” says Sean Muldoon, Papa John’s chief ingredient officer. “When we looked at this last year, those 14 stood out to us. These aren’t necessarily core menu items, and may be in sauces or sides, but they were keeping us from making a brand promise.”

The list of removed ingredients includes:

Artificial Colors

  • Synthetic Beta Carotene
  • Caramel Color
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Titanium Dioxide

Artificial Flavors

  • Vanillin

Flavor Enhancers

  • Disodium Guanylate
  • Disodium Inosinate
  • Hydrolyzed Corn/Soy Protein
  • Autolyzed Yeast


  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Corn Syrup


  • Calcium Propionate
  • Phosphoric Acids


  • Maltodextrin

Papa John’s removal of these ingredients comes after the brand recently transitioned the chicken it uses to be fed on a vegetarian diet and raised without antibiotics, and its eggs to be cage free.

Papa John’s also removed the synthetic colors and artificial flavors in January as part of this update.

Muldoon says the brand wants to use short, simple-sounding ingredients, and lists all of the ingredients for each product on its website to be transparent with customers.

“This is part of a changing consumer landscape,” he says. “We are a very consumer-centric company, and try to stay in touch with our consumers and what’s relevant to them.”

When Papa John’s makes clean label changes, it can often take a couple of years to implement as the company must test new recipes and work with suppliers to meet its specifications, Muldoon says.

Papa John’s spends about $100 million or more each year in implementing clean label changes.

“We always look at it as if we are out there with this initiative and it helps differentiate us, that’s a good thing,” Muldoon says. “But if we can help clean up the category and get other people to also clean up their menus then that’s a good thing, too.”

By Alex Dixon

Consumer Trends, Health & Wellness, Menu Innovations, News, Pizza, Papa Johns