Stakeholder Trends and Insights
Panera Bread to Industry:
Kids Shouldn't Have to Imagine What's in Their Food

Panera Bread today issued its Kids Meal Promise to express the company’s long-held beliefs about kids’ meals and commitments relative to its Panera Kids™ menu. The promise is meant to be a challenge to the restaurant industry and to all food manufacturers who offer kids food.

Panera is the first national restaurant company with a kids menu that meets all of five tenets of the Kids Meal Promise, including:

“As a father of two, I am personally driven to serve foods that I want my own children to eat. Frankly, the typical restaurant industry kids meal doesn’t serve our kids well,” said Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich. “We shouldn’t be marketing to kids. Toys and games distract from honest food choices. They come with poor options like fries and sugary beverages. This is not food as it should be. The meals we serve our children should be good food. Real options and food that is free of artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors and colors from artificial sources.”

The initiative is already garnering praise from parent activists and advocacy groups.

“We applaud Panera’s Kids Meal Promise, especially the pledge to avoid gimmicks, giveaways and other marketing techniques that exploit children’s developmental vulnerabilities,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “By letting their food speak for itself, Panera allows children to learn how to make food choices for the right reasons. And parents will appreciate a dining experience where the focus is family and food, not cartoon characters and toys.”

"As usual, Panera is thinking outside of the box with its commitment to making nutritious foods that kids will actually want to eat,” said Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D. and author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better. “I'm particularly excited about how the Panera Kids menu encourages children to eat the same types of foods as adults by actually offering Panera favorites in kid-size portions that taste great. That's important to me as a mother and a nutrition expert.

The Panera Kids menu — featuring an array of soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches — will be free of all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources identified on the company’s No No List — a list of unacceptable food ingredients Panera published in 2015, to be removed from all its menu items by the end of this year — starting September 7th. Not only is Panera banning a long list of artificial additives from its kids’ menu, the company provides kids a broader selection of wholesome meal choices based on its adult menu, versus the usual nuggets and fries fare. Panera has never included toys, cartoons or other child-targeted incentives as part of its kids’ meal.

“Just like our No No List, the Kids Meal Promise is a line in the sand,” said Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy at Panera. “It’s really a rejection of the entire concept of ‘kid food.’ We believe that our cafes should offer the same choices and transparency to children as we do adults. Of course, we will continue to add options — like our new wholegrain pan bread — and enhance nutrition, but we think these commitments give us a firm foundation for that journey.”

The Kids Meal Promise will be featured in Panera’s bakery-cafes and supported through digital and print advertising, including the Washington Post and parenting publications. To spark conversation, the company is also launching a social media campaign titled “Kids shouldn't have to imagine what’s in their food,” featuring children drawing and describing artificial ingredients they don’t recognize.

As Panera works to remove artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and colors from artificial sources from all of its foods by the end of 2016, Shaich said he thinks McDonald’s efforts suffer from a lack a holistic approach.

"If you're taking one single ingredient and trying to use that to create a halo across your menu, that seems inauthentic to us and confusing to people," Panera CEO Ron Shaich told Bloomberg. "We're paying the price to do it right. If you want the halo without doing it right, that's wrong."

In response, McDonald's spokesperson Terri Hickey told CNBC this morning that the fast-food giant is proud of the changes it has made to its food, and it is “committed to doing more and will continue to make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald's even better.”

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