Panera Bread isn’t stopping with the bread. The company has announced that it will rid its food of all artificial additives by the end of 2016. “That means no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives in any of the hundreds of food items it sells,” reports USA Today.
Consumers have become much more cautious about what they eat. With issues like allergies, obesity, and just overall good health at the forefront, restaurants — whether fast food, cafe chains, or anything of the like — that can build a brand on being good for you (or at least not bad for you) have a new and very powerful selling point.
“I want to serve food that I want to eat,” Ron Shaich, founder and CEO of Panera, told the newspaper. Beverages could be next, with high-fructose corn syrup on the chopping block.
Among the ingredients that will be nixed are maltodextrin, ascorbic acid and potassium lactate. If it’s too much like a chemistry class, people will be wary. Panera believes this is especially true for millennials.
“Millennials understand that prevention is far better than reacting to a disease,” Shaich added. To that end, Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD Group says Panera’s move is conducive to staying “contemporary.” Adds ABC News, it’s a sound strategy for trying to increase sales, which were up a mere 2.6 percent last year, compared to 6.5 percent the year before.
Certainly, Panera isn’t the first to try and put “fresh ingredients” and “wholesome food” at the forefront of their branding. Chipotle, for example, does it with their haunting and effecting “Scarecrow” ads. (The new Panera ad, below, has a similar look and feel no?) And McDonald’s takes baby steps in this direction with marketing for fruit in Happy Meal boxes and adult-portion salad items.
But the wholesale sweep of all of these ingredients is interesting. Other food companies, when caught in a controversy about additives or preservatives, usually fall back on FDA approval as justification for its inclusion in the recipe. That Panera is going a step beyond puts it in a league that few restaurant companies have ventured into. The question is whether it will drive the sales it’s looking for. Judging by the fact that we’d like to have Panera for lunch tomorrow now that half of the additives have already been removed, we’ll say the answer is yes. (And I’m not even a millennial.)