Panera plans to cut artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and colors from all packaged foods by the end of the year, a more aggressive deadline and comprehensive approach than those of many of the industry’s biggest names.
The company on Wednesday announced a plan to cut all artificial ingredients from its Panera at Home packaged-food line by the end of 2016, which is also the deadline for the chain to reach its goal of cutting all artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors, and flavors from its restaurant menu.
“We’re really trying to accomplish two things,” CEO Ron Shaich told Business Insider of the decision to cut artificial ingredients from packaged food. “One, let our customers know that if you’re dealing with Panera, it’s comprehensive, it’s all-inclusive, and you can count on it. And, I think we’re also trying to challenge the world a little bit.”
Shaich prides himself and Panera for being ahead of the industry when it comes to “clean” food, or food without preservatives or artificial ingredients. With the plan to cut artificial ingredients from Panera at Home, he hopes the company can help increase pressure on the industry to cut artificial ingredients from packaged goods.
“Look at the restaurant industry – there are a lot of people claiming some sort of clean, but nobody has been as comprehensive as we are, nobody has taken on as many categories as we have,” Shaich said. “We think in the supermarkets, it’s even worse. I’ll name names: Kraft, Campbell’s, Nestlé, General Mills – they’ve all done some form of it, but they’ll do the flavor but not the colors, some lines but not other lines.”
There is already significant pressure in the packaged-food business to move in the direction of natural food.
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Kraft quietly cut synthetic colors and preservatives from its mac and cheese but still has artificial ingredients in items such as Kool-Aid.Nestlé is removing artificial flavors and colors from chocolate but isstruggling to do the samein gummy and sour candies such as SweeTarts and Nerds.
Campbell’s doesn’t use artificial ingredients in soups made in the US and has pledged tocut all artificial colors and flavors by 2018, but it does use ingredients (like sodium phosphate) that are on Panera’s “no-no” list. General Mills similarly has plans to cut artificial flavors and colors from cereal by the end of 2016, but it sellsotherproductsthat contain artificial ingredients.
The challenges in cutting artificial ingredients from packaged foods are different from those presented by making the change at a restaurant chain. Preservatives are key to expanding shelf life, and working with retailers adds a layer of complication that isn’t there when rolling out changes at Panera locations.
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But since Panera’s packaged food is a growing part of the company’s business, making the change in groceries stores as well as in Panera cafes was key for the company. Panera at Home is now a $150 million retail business, encompassing nearly 50 products, including salad dressings and refrigerated soup.
“I don’t think there’s another manufacturer outside of some of the startups where you have a crystal-clear policy about the way that things are being prepared,” Shaich said. “That’s the key here. We take the Panera brand and stand for something today.”