Panera Bread becomes the first chain to highlight climate-friendly choices
Panera is the first national chain to label its climate-friendly meals in a push it hopes others will follow, and one that leaves nearly half of its own foods off of its “cool food” list.
It is the latest push by Panera to guide customers to make more informed decisions about what they choose to consume. Panera began listing calories on its menus in 2010, years ahead of many other major chains. In 2017, it pointed out how much added sugar was included in cold drinks such as lemonade, soft drinks and tea. Now, it wants to help people figure out if the foods they order have less impact on the world’s climate than other options. The move kicks off with the chain’s online menu on Wednesday.
Food production is responsible for nearly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, Panera points out. Seeing a “cool food meal" logo on the menu beside dishes that make the cut can inform diners that those options correlate to having less of a carbon footprint.
The effort, says Panera Bread CEO Niren Chaudhary, fits into the brand’s mission in “the relentless pursuit of good eating.” That doesn’t mean Panera is going to take foods that don’t get the logo off of its menu. “There’s no aspect of a sacrifice,” says the CEO, who joined the chain in 2019.
At Panera, 55% of entrees can be labeled “cool food meals,” meaning they are more climate-friendly. Dishes that get a passing grade include the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt, Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, and soups such as Bistro French Onion (the one promoted by Phyllis from “The Office”) and Broccoli Cheddar.
Items that don’t make the cut include Spinach Bacon Souffle, Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken, Heritage Ham and Swiss Sandwich, and a bowl of mac & cheese (even the broccoli cheddar version that Michael Bolton swooned over in a recent campaign).
And Chaudhary is at the ready with statistics to help illustrate the impact people’s changes could have. If all Americans replaced 10 quarter-pounder burgers and fries with the chain’s Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt sandwiches and potato chips, it would be the equivalent of taking 16 million cars off the road for a year, he says.
The idea to identify food’s climate impact came about last year. It’s a way to take data “that we tuck away into CSR reports that no one ever reads” and help turn it into action, says Sara Burnett, Panera’s VP of food values, sustainability & public affairs.
Panera isn't the only major chain highlighting environmental efforts. In July, for example, Burger King proclaimed that feeding lemongrass to cows could help reduce their methane emissions. Such marketing may not immediately lead to sales lifts, but can bolster a brand's image in the minds of consumers, thereby leading to potential sales gains.
According to Panera, World Resources Institute analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural supply chain and land used to produce the food.
“The science is clear that we’re not going to be able to address climate change without changing what we eat,” Daniel Vennard, director of sustainable diets at World Resources Institute, said in a statement. “This new certification is about spotlighting the dishes that help people build climate-friendly lifestyles.”
Packaging impact isn’t measured but is a “very small percentage” of Panera’s carbon footprint, says Burnett. It’s an area where the chain is already seeking out more recyclable and compostable items. And it gives diners the option to say they don’t want disposable cutlery when getting food to go. In some places, up to 80% opt out, she says.
Along with the online menu update, the chain will use social media to promote the designation, and later will update the menus in its restaurants. Starting digitally makes sense, especially as so many orders are coming from outside the restaurant during the pandemic. Panera will also inform its 40 million loyalty program members via email.
In 2016, Panera set a goal for itself to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2022, and remains on track to hit that goal, Chaudhary says.