Panera Bread's new online campaign, featuring animated videos that promote its kids' meals, debuts as its CEO speaks out against the cleaner food changes made by other chains, particularly McDonald's.
The new marketing effort, which does not include TV commercials, is the latest way Panera is trying to stand out both from chains that use artificial flavors and preservatives, and from the growing number of restaurants that focus on cleaner fare.
Three online videos show animated drawings as children describe well-known foods and imagine what other words might be. In one, a child named Caden describes an apple and then explains sodium benzoate, a preservative, as a large, one-eyed red egg. Another has Elias describing a potato and the dye tartrazine, which in his mind is a six-footed monkey in the ocean.
A third video showcases Isabella describing cheddar cheese and the sweetener aspartame, imagined as a magical part of Canada.
The children's drawings of ingredients were used to inspire the images created by animators. Lines shown on the screen include "Kids shouldn't have to imagine what's in their food."
On Aug. 1, McDonald's announced changes that include removing artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets and taking high-fructose corn syrup out of its buns. Panera, meanwhile, is working on removing artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and colors from artificial sources from all of its foods in its restaurants and in grocery stores by the end of 2016.
"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." He made similar comments to Business Insider.
McDonald's responded to Mr. Shaich's comments by saying it is proud of the changes it has made to its food, the variety it offers and the ingredients it uses, such as beef, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables. "Most importantly, we are committed to doing more and will continue to make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald's even better," spokeswoman Terri Hickey said.
Along with the new online effort, Panera ran a full-page ad in Thursday's Washington Post that underscores the chain's plan to serve kids' meals free from artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors.
Panera's campaign also emphasizes free water as the first drink choice for kids, followed by suggesting patrons pay for organic milk or 100% juice. At other restaurants, such as McDonald's, milk, chocolate milk and juice are standard choices for the kids' meals, and soft drinks are allowed as substitutions.
Side options in Panera's kids' meals include squeezable organic yogurt, an apple or bread. The sides in McDonald's kids' meals include fries, as well as squeezable GoGurt yogurt, apple slices and Cuties clementines, when in season.
Panera is not the only company currently having kids tell its cleaner ingredient stories. On Wednesday, SkinnyPop popcorn launched its first digital videos, which show children try to spell words such as monosodium glutamate.